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Is UConn bad for women’s basketball?

There has been quite a bit of talk about the UConn women’s basketball 72 game winning streak. Some of it is positive and some is negative.  I don’t think you can talk negatively about a team winning 72 games.  The criticism is of the sport itself and I think it’s on target.  Right or wrong, the criticism is good for the sport. Number one is that it’s attention. And attention good or bad is attention and more people will watch because of it. Number two, maybe it will make some of these programs step up who consistently underachieve. I think the lack of parity can be partially attributed to coaches who aren’t doing their jobs. Many coaches are only concerned about their next job as opposed to making their student athletes better. We know that high school basketball leaves a lot to be desired. This stems from a lack of fundamental development at young ages because of AAU and high school coaches who have selfish interests. It could be said that the same issues exist in the men’s game but I digress.

The athleticism in men’s basketball makes it more appealing to watch to the average fan. Fans like dunks.  Fans like the high wire acts. It doesn’t mean it’s better basketball. In many cases it’s not. But that doesn’t change the fact that most fans don’t know what good basketball looks like. I’m not even sure about some of the coaches out there. But more fans means more money which is what today’s world all about.

Football is popular because it’s exciting.  It’s fast paced.  I’ve never understood why people like NASCAR racing, but it’s fast.  There’s a reason the smaller circuits don’t get as many fans.  The cars don’t go as fast.  The truck series?  Really?  It’s not even close.

There’s a reason there’s been a decline in the popularity of baseball. It’s boring. Kids don’t like it and they don’t play it. People can say what they want about performance enhancing drugs, but at the end of the day, baseball has made more money and had more fans as a result. Not saying it’s right or wrong.  It just is.  People would rather see somebody hit home runs as opposed to strike people out. Which is more exciting, 10-9 or 1-0? To a baseball purist, maybe 1-0, but to the average fan, 10-9.

Sorry for the tangent, but I think it’s relevant.  Bringing us back to women’s basketball.  People like competition. Close games are more fun to watch. How many times have you heard “they let them come back to keep people watching”? Not that it’s true, but if it’s a blow out, people change the channel, people leave early. People like rivalries. People like excitement. UConn is in Storrs, CT.  That’s not what I would call a big market.  And who wants to see a team win by 20 every night? The reason I don’t like the movies Titanic and Pearl Harbor…I already know what’s going to happen.

I like watching UConn, because I’m more than just a basketball fan. Maybe if I were a movie aficionado, I might have more appreciation for those movies.  In any case, this is a compliment to UConn and a challenge to the rest of women’s college basketball.  STEP UP!!!  Is there really that much of a disparity in talent between one team and all the rest?  Are the players on Geno’s team really that much better than everybody else?  Tina Charles and Maya Moore may be the best two players at their positions, but are the other three players dominant at their positions?  Can teams not figure out a way to at least keep a game close?  Can’t at least one other team at least compete?

When a team wins a basketball game, there’s always more than one reason.  Putting more points on the scoreboard, is more than just making more shots.  It could be shooting better shots, having less turnovers, getting more rebounds, and heck even getting lucky.  When a team wins 72 straight games, there’s more than one reason.  And it looks to me like the UConn program is hitting all the right buttons. From administration, to faculty, coaches, players, managers, and fans, they’ve got a recipe for success. (At least if they aren’t cheating and I seriously doubt that’s the case)

So let’s talk about parity.  If men’s players weren’t allowed to leave for the NBA, you’d have Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and maybe 10-12 other programs dominating every year with Mid Majors having no chance. But even now, there’s not that much more parity. How many teams outside the power conferences make the Final Four in either men’s or women’s hoops? We might see one this year, but I wouldn’t bet on them going all the way. Last year, all 4 top seeds were in the final four.  Carolina ran through the tournament fairly easily.  If that team was around this year..parity?  No way.  Ok ok…forget hypothetical, but which 16 seed is going to win this weekend?  Yep, exactly.  Back when UCLA won 10 national championships in 12 years, things were extremely different.  The tournament was smaller.  Recruiting was different.  There weren’t as many teams.  There was no 3 point shot.  The list goes on and on.  What they accomplished was difficult.  They deserve credit.  But because of increased parity, that won’t happen again. The sport doesn’t want it to happen again.

And I certainly wouldn’t put any big surprises in the women’s Final Four.  UConn is setting the standard.  And they are setting it high.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The rest of the teams will catch up…one day. And someone will look back and compare the teams of the future to this team.  And someone will say, well it was different then.  Because the rest of the world will catch up. And it won’t be when UConn loses a game, because they will eventually.  It will be years after when there are scores of teams competing for the top.

Women’s basketball hasn’t been around as long as men’s.  Women haven’t been playing as long.  I don’t know any statistics, but I bet the overwhelming majority of girls who play basketball when they are young do so in an organized setting. Girls don’t play on the playgrounds as much as boys do during their youth. That gap is closing, but there’s still a difference. Just like the 9 year old boy I met a couple weeks ago.  He was spouting off names and stats like they were his multiplication tables.  It’s only one example, but I would wager that there are more of him than there are girls at 9 years old. Many girls touch a basketball for the first time in a parks and recreational or AAU setting at 8 or 9 years old.  Many boys grow up with a basketball in their hand.  Many girls don’t. By 8 or 9 many boys have already played in 2 or 3 years worth of games. They know the rules.  They know where the baseline is.  Again, this doesn’t mean that boys learn to play the game better.  It just means that the men’s game is more advanced.

It’s the same with soccer.  Men’s soccer in America isn’t as good as it is in other countries.  There’s a reason that Canada won the most gold medals in the 2010 Winter Olympics.  People in different climates in different socio-economic backgrounds play different sports.  People with money are more likely to play golf than people without. Could someone out of a low income area be better than Tiger?  Of course, but we may never know. They grow up playing basketball not golf.  Imagine Tiger as a hoopstar.  UNGUARDABLE! Better than Jordan?  He may be “too short”, but his athleticism and mental game on a basketball court would be tough to combat.

Carolina women’s soccer program is another example of domination. They don’t get nearly the attention they deserve either, partly because it’s soccer.  But in the end, it’s been good for women’s soccer.  Other teams are stepping up to the challenge on the recruiting field which translates to the soccer field, but there’s still a ways to go.

History tells us that race and gender have had a big impact in all walks of life.   Racism and gender bias still exist.  If racism has been minimized, it’s been in sports. (One of the reasons sports is great)  Title IX may not have eliminated gender bias, but it has helped.  What it can’t do is change the past.  We’re still working towards overcoming those issues.  I prefer to admit the elephant is in the room and work to make things better.  If we believe things are equal, I believe we’re selling ourselves short.

I’m not a UConn groupie, but I hope they continue to pave the way towards better basketball.  I hope they keep winning until I’m on the sidelines as their opponent.

March 15, 2010 at 9:09 PM
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