By: Jeffrey Newholm
Monday February 8th was Big Monday in women’s basketball, but not just any Big Monday: it was a matchup of #1 UConn and #2 South Carolina, in Columbia, South Carolina.
The 18,000 arena was sold out, marking the biggest women’s game in the history of the state. However a large group of fans, experts and statisticians thought the women’s answer to the Sooner-Jayhawk clash wouldn’t be as good. No, they thought it would be yet another Husky rout.
Well sure enough, UConn had a 21 point lead entering the fourth (a window dressing run reduced the final margin to 12), making it the 60th straight double digit Husky win. Many have said over the years that the lack of parity and drama in the women’s game is stifling the league’s growth.
While there is reason for concern, there’s no serious threat to the future of the sport.
In the short term, a dominant team is a rising tide that lifts all boats. Fans from within and outside the league stand in awe of the top dog, and their march to the title, completed or not, is covered at every breathtaking turn. In the men’s game Kentucky’s undefeated start last year made for a dramatic Final Four: love ‘em or hate ‘em, everyone had to see if they would have the first perfect season since the ’76 Hoosiers. But if the same team dominates the league year after year, the story and excitement gets stale.
The 2009 Huskies were 39-0 with every win by double digits. UConn set a ten-year low for attendance that year. Uconn coach Geno Auriemma recently said on a podcast “Husky fans are a bunch of [expletive] idiots”. No, they’re not idiots, they’re human. Too much success is as big a problem to Man as too little. As philosopher Blaise Pascal put it in his rambling Thoughts: “too much pleasure cloys on us, too many benefits annoy us…in a word, all extremes are for us as though they were not”.
A team can be too good for its own good, and especially for the good of the league.
For example, the AAFC was a major competitor to the NFL in the 1940s. Eventually the whole league had to fold, with the exception of three teams joining the NFL, because the Browns-yes the Browns-sucked all the excitement out of the league. Cleveland won every AAFC title with an overall mark of 52-4-3, including a 29 game unbeaten run. By the end, attendance was down in every city including Cleveland. But the good news is the women’s game isn’t going to go bust, because it has the iron-clad protection of Title IX.
Title IX is a law stating every university that receives federal funds has to give equal scholarships and resources to both men’s and women’s athletics. True, many D1 women’s teams do not have near the success or fan support of the corresponding men’s team. But as long as that school has a football team, they’ll need a women’s basketball team. Even the worst of the worst in D1 aren’t about to disband.
And hard as it may seem to believe today, no dynasty can last forever. Old powers Duke and Tennessee are in shambles (Duke may not even make the tournament). UConn may finish off the fourpeat this April, but their amazing run of success won’t be duplicated. It’s likely their three best players will all leave, and the school only has the nation’s 14th best recruiting class to replace them.
Soon enough Geno will retire, and no one can replace him. No, UConn isn’t doing the league many favors right now. But every star, no matter how bright, must eventually dim. With Title IX the women’s game is in good hands, so fans should just appreciate the Husky dynasty while it still reigns.