Friday, December 11, 2015
This may seem an unusual topic for me, but I get to write about whatever matters to folks around here. Connecticut doesn't have any major league sports teams, except for the WNBA Suns, and so far women's professional basketball doesn't get a huge audience. People in the east of the state lean toward the Red Sox and Patriots, and in the west they lean toward the New York Teams.
We do, however, have UConn basketball. The state fathers (and I do mean fathers) decided a few years back that UConn really needs a powerhouse division 1 football program, but so far that has been a debacle. (I am happy to say, and I hope it stays that way.) Both the men's and women's basketball programs, however, have brought home championships -- in fact they've both done it in the same year, twice. Basketball costs much less money than football, and doesn't cause brain damage, which seems like two big advantages.
What really stands out about UConn however is the women's program, which has been dominating the sport for a couple of decades under the leadership of coach Geno Auriemma. They've made it to the NCAA tournament every year since 1989, first won the championship in 1995, and have won
it 9 times since, including the past 3 years in a row, and they are heavy favorites to win again this year. They are the most popular team in the state, every game is on TV and they have rabid fans of both genders.
The women's game had to learn from men when it was first getting started, which is why you still see a lot of male head coaches in the women's game. You don't see female head coaches in the men's game, which obviously needs to change. However, Auriemma has done his part, mentoring many women who have gone on to be head coaches elsewhere.
The problem right now is that they are too dominant. Most of their games are ridiculous blowouts; there are maybe two or three teams in the country that can even give them a game, but probably nobody who can beat them. The reason is that so far, there aren't enough elite players to go around. The best all want to come to UConn because they want to win championships, obviously, so Geno has his pick of the two or three he wants. Then the rest just can't populate enough other teams to create competition.
This is like the UCLA dynasty under John Wooden. I don't know if it's good for women's basketball in the long run -- it's probably a phase they have to go through, and it does create fans at least in one state, and motivates people elsewhere to beat them. But as people, the women already beat the men. The players are humble, work hard, don't act like jerks on or off the court, and aren't expecting to get rich after they graduate either. They just do it because they love it. So I watch.