Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Women's hoops wrap-up

OK, so the NCAA championship game was two weeks ago. I really meant to finish this post that week. It just didn't happen. So here it is. Hopefully still somewhat valuable and/or interesting.
It's a good thing the food was good at my championship party Tuesday night because the game was just so-so. This does not mean there is no parity in the women's game or that the tournament as a whole was boring.
The coverage before, during, and after was littered with "they're not quite there yet" sentiments or, conversely, "they're there and now they have to deal with all the evils of success" type comments.
This article from the Tampa Tribune falls into the latter category. Signs that women's basketball as made it? The "feud" between Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma, recruiting violations, cheating scandals, exorbitant coaches' salaries. What a lovely view to take of the sport. How about sellout crowds? How about high graduation rates? How about community service teams do?
It's also problematic that the mere idea that women would commit infractions such as cheating, stealing, getting high and drinking sends people into a tizzy. What if women's basketball becomes like men's basketball the question goes. How about dealing with all the problems in men's basketball by dealing with the system that has helped create and/or perpetuate them. The idea that women's basketball is at some kind of crossroads rings kind of false to me. I think women's sports advocates from the 1970s would say that women's intercollegiate sports generally were at a crossroads during that decade and into the 80s and we definitely followed the path that had been forged by men's sports. Do we really believe that women's basketball will be able to step back from the intense recruiting, the compromising of educational values, and the other such "pitfalls" at this point? Reform needs to occur more globally and address issues in women's and men's sports so that neither become a lost cause.
Here's a Debbie Downer of an editorial from a student columnist in Illinois who notes that even though both the men's and women's tournament was top-heavy this year, she still watched primarily men's games and that the men will always be a "step ahead" of the women's game. Well that's because they got a hundred years or so of a head start. And because men still get more: more money, more publicity, more media coverage, more recruiting dollars. There is no even playing field. The writer notes that she failed to flip the channel to a women's game at all this tournament. It would be nice if she didn't have to. If channels like CBS covered both the men's and women's games.
This editorialist thinks the women's tournament grew too fast expanding to 64 teams in only 12 years. Perhaps; I don't really have a strong opinion on this except to say that it's too late now. Cutting back the number of teams would be a huge symbolic defeat for the game. And frankly I think women's basketball is up to the challenge of making itself more competitive in all the rounds. As for his argument about poor attendance. Well I blame the media for that. Cover the game--throughout the season. Give it the same hype you give the men's game, and people will show up in the early rounds.
And just to show that people will show up in record numbers and generate lots of money, the Nashville Business Journal reports that the SEC tournament had record-setting attendance and put $8.5 million into the local economy. This is a 70 percent increase in the economic impact in just four years (when the region last hosted the SEC tourney).
And now to Candace Parker, who was, predicted, drafted by the Sparks right after winning her second NCAA championship. I'm not going to comment on the whole playing in pain, while injured thing because I have some pretty strong opinions on how these things get covered and discussed. There has been a lot of coverage of Parker this season. I think there is a general fear of the impact of her absence in the collegiate game will be next year and a general belief that she will never get as much attention as she did during her three years at Tennessee. But this columnist out of Seattle had many good things to say about Parker, including this:
If Candace Parker were a man, she'd be the most hyped professional basketball player ever. Bigger than anyone in this summer's star-deficient NBA draft class.
But even he cannot predict her level of success--as in ability to generate interest and revenue for the WNBA--when she goes pro. Maybe all these questions will be a good enough reason for people to actually tune in to the WNBA this season. I am also hoping the Olympic Games will generate some fan interest as well.

And finally, not exactly a story related to this year's championships, but a look back is this ESPN feature on one of the original women's basketball dynasties: the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College who were a powerhouse. The article is quite lengthy and thorough. If you don't feel like reading it you can always wait for the movie. Seriously, there is supposedly a movie in the works about the Might Macs though I haven't heard anything about it lately. Stayed tuned--especially if you are as curious as I am about who will be play the young Rene Portland.


Helen said...

When you say "original" dynasties, I'm sure you mean "modern day."

Flashing back to the past you'll encounter the Philly Tribunes (a black team in the 30s), Edmonton Grads, the Nashville Business College and the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens.

Anonymous said...

Julie Byrne's 2003 book, "O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Might Macs," is an excellent history of that program.

I'll be curious as to how truthful the movie is about the very conservative Catholic culture at Immaculata. Did the homophobia of former Penn State coach Rene Portland stem from her days there?

anonymous said...

Cathy Rush, a pioneer in women's basketball who won three consecutive AIAW national championships with Immaculata University from 1972 to '74, was named as one of the enshrinees to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame early April. It was her sixth time as a finalist, and this time was the charm. A well-deserved honor.

anonymous said...

Speaking of the Mighty Macs: Cathy Rush, a pioneer in women's basketball who won three consecutive AIAW national championships with Immaculata University from 1972 to '74, was named as one of the enshrinees to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in early April. It was her sixth time as a finalist, and this time was a charm. A well-deserved honor.

ken said...

Yes, sorry, didn't mean to erase very important history. I was speaking to the modern college game and so used "original" inaccurately.
JFB--thanks for the information on Rush.
Carol Anne--I came across some features on the Might Mac in Ms magazine during the course of some research and, as I recall, the conservative environment was very much hidden in the pieces. As I recall the notion that nuns were involved was presented as quaint and charming.

VP81955 said...

I love women's basketball, and have since the '70s, but it's never going to become a real top-flight sport until there's more balance among the teams. Too many top recruits go to Tennessee and Connecticut (and, to a lesser extent, places like Maryland, Rutgers, North Carolina, LSU and Stanford) because they are still, for the most part, the only places where women's basketball is treated like a major sport. There are still way too few upsets to encourage genuine fan interest aside from a pocket of schools.

For the good of the sport, we need elite recruits who have the courage to spurn Pat, Geno, etc., and go to a place to build something.