Tuesday, March 29, 2016
UConn Isn't Ruining Women's Basketball ... But I'm Not Watching It
There has been much made about Dan Shaughnessy's tweet about UConn's dominance ruining women's college basketball. People all over the sports world are chiming in. Most agree that it isn't the case. UConn isn't killing the game. Everyone else needs to step it up.
That's my view as well. It isn't the Huskies fault that they are so good and no one else can touch them. Are they supposed to lay down so everyone else feels good? Isn't that the exact wrong approach?
To me, this is about two things overlapping: Dominant teams and women's basketball.
The effect of a dominant team is always debated in sports. In some aspects, it is good. A hated team usually gets the blood boiling and people love to see that team get smacked down. Whether it is the Yankees when they dominated at the turn of the century or the Cowboys in the mid-1990s or the Lakers or Duke or Alabama or LeBron or ... whomever. Even short term "great" teams get hated in the moment. Our yearning to hate is just as big as the want of your team to do well. Take the upcoming Final Four. People are choosing to root against teams more than wanting to see someone win it.
At the same time, a dominant team can make things stagnant. Without one, and it seems there is a more fractured fan base. It is 30 baseball fanbases each rooting for their teams. With a dominant team, the 29 others band together to form a hate squad.
Eventually, that team or player isn't dominant anymore. You get older, more fragile, too expensive, free agency happens and, ultimately, your competitors get better.
Tiger Woods was tossed about in this. Tiger owned golf in the late 1990s and 2000s. He was the undisputed best player. He hit the ball farther. He was aggressive. He scared off his opponents. But, a generation of players who developed in Tiger's image came along and ... well ... out Tiger-ed him. They hit the ball far, too. They were aggressive. They weren't scared.
I think that is what will happen in women's college basketball. Teams will have to get better players. And those better players will have to become ... better. It won't be next season or the one after that. It will take time. But the UConn effect on the women's game will eventually be that we will see better play and a more exciting game in the years ahead.
Which brings me to women's hoops. To be honest, it is a niche sport right now. Not everyone watches anyway. The diehards do and the fans of the schools do and casual fans like me check in. But there isn't a massive bracket pool going around at most workplaces for it. However, in a niche sport, you really need a name brand to gain some publicity. We all know the UConn Lady Huskies are out there. They aren't just great but historically great. Even if they are dominant, they can bring great drama to the women's tournament. What if there is a close game down the stretch? You may flip over to see it. Either way, it will be history.
Quick, who is the best team in the NHL right now?
I am a sports fan and I kinda sorta watch women's basketball. If UNC is doing well, I'm more in it than usual. I do watch the Final Four, usually. But I'm not really into it. Kinda like the NHL. Or MLS. Or college baseball. Or a regular season Conference USA football game. Or the D-League. It isn't that this is a women's game ... it is just not a sport I spend too much time watching.
We always can have this discussion. Was boxing great when Mike Tyson was pummeling cats in the first round? No, but I watched every Tyson bout. Next thing you know, Tyson got beat and the 1990s had a very exciting time with heavyweight fights. In the NBA, the last nine years has seen either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James in the NBA Finals. Tired of it? Well we have those exciting Warriors. The Yankees dominance berthed a bunch of solid organizations down the road, including the defending champion Kansas City Royals.
UConn has raised the level of expectation in the women's game. One day they will be challenged. Will you be watching?