Commentary: March Madness – and then there’s the women of UConn
By Anthony L Hall
Organizers hype the annual NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament as “March Madness.” They do so to exploit “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” inherent in low-seeded (aka Cinderella) teams upsetting top-seeded ones — often with buzzer-beating hail marys.
|Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant – headquartered in Washington DC – who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com|
Except that this year’s tournament hasn’t quite lived up to that hype. After all, the top-seeded teams in two of the four regions in the men’s bracket made it to the Final Four. And the women’s bracket played out even more predictably – with the top-seeded teams in two regions being joined by two second-seeded teams from the other two.
Specifically, here are the match ups for this weekend’s Final Four vying for a ticket to next week’s “Final Dance”:
1 UConn vs. 2 Mississippi State
1 South Carolina vs. 2 Stanford
1 Gonzaga vs. 7 South Carolina
1 North Carolina vs. 3 Oregon
Who knew South Carolina was such a powerhouse? But it’s too much to hope that its teams will pull off this UConn feat:
Ten years ago, Connecticut made history when it became the first Division I school in history to have its men and women’s basketball teams win the national championship the same year.
On Tuesday night, they recreated the feat when the UConn women beat Notre Dame 79-58 in the national championship game. On Monday night, the men’s team beat Kentucky 60-54 to win the men’s national championship.
(USA Today, April 8, 2014)
In the interest of full disclosure, I decided years ago to forego the cheap thrill of filling out brackets and feigning agony as my picks get knocked off like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery.
Mind you, if I were still an indentured servant at a big law firm, I would’ve welcomed the respite from drudgery, which bracketology for office pools provides. The aim was clearly not to guess the result of each game; it was to see whose bracket sustained the least number of casualties throughout the tournament.
But I no longer buy into the NCAA hype because it’s just so brazenly sexist. I’m on record decrying this in “UConn Routs Louisville to Win NCAA (Women’s) Championship,” April 8, 2009.
One can be forgiven for thinking that North Carolina winning the NCAA (men’s) championship on Monday is the biggest story in Basketball this year. …
[But] the biggest story … is the way UConn crowned a perfect season by winning the NCAA (women’s) championship in a rout over Louisville 76-54 last night. Because UConn not only ended its season 39-0, its players were so dominant, they won each game by double digits with unprecedented ease.
Now just imagine the hoopla if North Carolina had won the NCAA (men’s) championship in such convincing fashion. …
[Meanwhile], instead of commanding network coverage in primetime, like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated to cable last night, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. TV executives wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league — the WNBA. Well, it might have something to do with the way they keep dissing women’s college Basketball in this fashion.
Moreover, what does this disparate coverage say to female college athletes, as well as to young girls, who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys? Frankly, it says that male chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated.
This sexism explains why you’d never know the biggest story in Basketball this year is the UConn women’s quest for yet another perfect season. If they succeed, they will have accomplished the astounding feat of winning back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back (i.e., five consecutive) national titles – complete with a record-setting, 113-game winning streak.
To put this prospect into perspective, here is how ESPN’s Sports Center hailed their third consecutive championship:
Back-to-back is hard, but back-to-back-to-back is harder — no matter how good a team is.
UConn has been SO dominant this year, [the Huskies] could lose by 192 tonight & still set D-I record for largest single-season scoring margin. …
[UConn women’s coach] Geno Auriemma joins John Wooden & Phil Jackson as only coaches in major college or pro sports to win 10 titles.
(ESPN, April 7, 2015)
This brings me to another example of the brazenly sexist regard so many have for women’s Basketball.
Boston Globe columnist [Dan Shaughnessy] said the Huskies ‘are killing the women’s game’ by being too dominant. …
[He] was referring to the 98-38 win over Mississippi State and ended with ‘Watch? No thanks.’
(FOX Sports, March 28, 2016)
Mind you, the very sports columnists (invariably men) decrying UConn’s dominance would be hailing it if UConn’s men were the ones dominating in this fashion. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single columnist who decried UCLA’s dominance when it was racking up 10 titles under legendary coach John Wooden.
But here is how Coach Auriemma pooh-poohed this criticism in his own inimitable way:
So don’t watch, and don’t write about it. …
When Tiger was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf. … And now there’s a lot more great golfers because of Tiger.
(Los Angeles Time, March 28, 2016)
Of course, I appreciate that most people (men and women) think there’s no way women’s Basketball can match the excitement of men’s. But I used to think there’s no way women’s Tennis can match the excitement of men’s. I still watch a lot of Tennis, but I haven’t watched men play in years.
In any event, I hope my testimony disabuses you of any sexist thought you may have in this regard. Give women’s Basketball a try.
For the record, I’m pulling for the UConn to complete its five-peat feat!
As for the men’s bracket, I’m pulling for South Carolina — primarily because it’s the clear underdog among the Final Four. But I’m also influenced by the fact that former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker, my favorite country singer, is the team’s biggest fan.