The unusually pointed remarks from coach Geno Auriemma about male chauvinist sports pigs oinking about his Connecticut women's basketball winning 88 straight — perhaps winning 89! — caused some confusion among casual fans and journalists. Wait, were we being unfair to them? Should I have written a MAC women's basketball preview? Should I memorize Susan B. Anthony's birthday?
Much of the reaction in the TV studios has been supportive of Auriemma's comments, which, if you haven't heard them, you may now read the money clip:
If we were breaking a women’s record, everybody would go, "Aren’t those girls nice? Give them two paragraphs in USA Today. Give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and let’s send them back where they belong – the kitchen."
Okay, this might take a while.
First about the streak itself. Do Neanderthal men treasure that 88-game winning streak by John Wooden and UCLA basketball and fear that some women are going to take it away? Do people even revere that number? There are records in sports where the number is eponymous to the record: Joe DiMaggio's 56, Cal Ripken's 2632, Wilt Chamberlain's 100, and now Brett Favre's 297.
Some numbers like that simply don't resonate. Consider another streak: Toledo quarterback Chuck Ealey was 35-0 as a starter from 1969-71, a record that still stands today. Only when Matt Leinart was 34-0 with a chance to tie it in the Rose Bowl did the streak manifest itself in the national consciousness. And then, of course, USC lost, and the streak was tucked back into the dimly lit corner of the NCAA record book. Now maybe if Ealey was as insufferable as Mercury Morris about the record, then perhaps we'd have it in the forefront of our skulls.
But maybe there are some zealous college basketball fans and/or members of that UCLA team that treasure "88." (Although that doesn't seem to fit in with John Wooden's mentality. I checked the pyramid — pride isn't on there.)
So that leads me to believe that Auriemma pretty much drummed up a straw man to generate buzz about women's college basketball and get us to learn the true meaning of girls' sports. It's a Christmas miracle!
Now then. Auriemma's comments struck home with me because, for one reason or another, I don't talk much about women's basketball on Hustle Belt. There could be a couple reasons for that:
- It's women's basketball
- Less information is available on it
- I just don't have the time to properly cover a third MAC sport
- Women really do belong in the kitchen
All right, so which reason is it?
It's not that I don't think women's basketball is worth following ... on the contrary, my favorite sports moment of 2007 might be Bowling Green's estrogen-powered run to the Sweet 16, thanks to upsets of Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt in the first two rounds. I attended a couple of their games that year: one regular season and the MAC championship in Cleveland. And honestly? The energy and emotion they showed in that game was right up there with any other college sport.
But it is a different game. When your team's star center is 5'11", and said team is ranked in the Top 25, it's just a different sport, and some people don't enjoy watching it. (When SportsCenter and fans in general fawn over a woman dunking, that just grates on me a little because it means they're trying to showcase things that women can also do in basketball, and that detracts from the overall concept.) But some people do enjoy it, just like some people prefer the NBA variety over the college game, and vice versa. And some people prefer bowing over basketball. The choices we have today!
So the answer is probably a combination of No. 2 and No. 3. That, and ask any militant feminist who went to Bowling Green from 2001-05: it's probably that I just hate women.
And the final point about UConn's streak. People have tried to distance the comaprisons to UCLA because of the different time periods and so many other variables like technology and training and media exposure. But they do share a common artery: when one team dominates during an era, it means that the competitive balance is down, but the onus was on all the other teams to figure out how to beat the Bruins. We're also seeing this in NASCAR, and perhaps to some extent, the NBA. The team that finally figured out UCLA was NC State, who snapped the Bruins' streak of seven NCAA titles in 1974, then went onto win it themselves. And eventually, they were no longer perennial champions, although they always competed. (What also logically helped was the retirement of John Wooden, but even after the 88-game streak, they were beaten four times.)
The next step in the progression of women's basketball will be higher competition. Coaches will figure out how to beat UConn, even once, and then eventually a set of five or ten teams will be legitimate competitors to the national championship. Even on a smaller scale, at some point Bowling Green will not be the predominant favorite to win the MAC every year. As a fan of the Falcons, I hope this doesn't happen, but as a fan of the conference, the hope is that other schools become just as great, and then every time BG loses, it's not a monumental upset.
While in the men's game, Duke is always great, they're not always No. 1. Sometimes it's Kansas, or maybe it's UNC, or Michigan State, or the UConn men. The NCAA tournament is not always one powerful team and a clump of reasonable challengers; it's usually wide open between the 1- and 2-seeds. That's where women's basketball aspires to be. Since the proliferation of the sport began well after the men already had a slick tournament in place, their enjoyable parity will come with time, but in this current time period, the evolution will happen much faster.
There you go. If this was too long, blame Geno. He started it.