The UConn Women’s basketball team has dominated the sport for years now. They’ve won 11 championships in 20 years, and have won 4 championships in a row. In their last two years, every victory for UConn has been by double digits. They are the gold standard for women’s basketball and among the greatest program in all sports regardless of gender or sport. Geno Auriemma is one of the greatest coaches of all time, and Breanna Stewart is one of the greatest players in her sport. It’s a marvelous unit and outstanding team to watch and support. The state of Connecticut takes a good amount of pride in their Huskies, as they should. It is some of the best basketball anyone has the privilege of watching. They are among the best parts of women’s basketball.
However, it can, and I believe it does, hurt the sport. How? Because if the sport is not competitive, people will be less inclined to follow and watch it. Sports are fun because they are competitive and you’re not sure who is going to win. We watch for the thrill of competition and potential for both sides winning. It’s more fun when both sides are actually in the game and have a chance to win. In theory, anyone could defeat UConn. But for the last few years, that has not been the case in practice. UConn has so clearly dominated in the women’s game that it almost isn’t worth watching for any reason other than to watch how good UConn can be. Admittedly it is fun watching them control their opponents, especially as a Connecticutian. But when I step back and take a look at it from a wider perspective, I can see some major problems with this, especially when compared to the men’s college game.
This year’s Men’s tournament was unpredictable, filled with consistent turns and had many teams who could win the championship. And this resulted in one of the greatest college basketball championship games ever played between North Carolina and Villanova. The tournament this year demonstrated what college basketball is at its best. Women’s basketball is still a fairly young sport when compared to the men’s game and needs a few more storylines than just “UConn is destroying everyone”.
Dan Shaughnessy wrote his response to the domination of the Huskies and drew a tremendous amount of flack for it. I think that Shaughnessy is partly right. I think he is correct that it does hurt the sport if UConn is not even close to being beat. No game summed this up more than this year’s National Championship game against Syracuse. Keep in mind that I am a Big East basketball fan who will always want Syracuse to lose. The basketball fan in me wanted to see the game be somewhat close. I wanted it to be tight and see UConn rise to the challenge. But there was no challenge to rise to, and there certainly was no effort that Syracuse could muster to top the clearly superior Huskies. That is harmful to Women’s hoops, especially when the Men’s championship the night before was so compelling and entertaining. That can make them the worst part of the sport too.
The way to improve the sport is not to complain though, it is for at least one or two other programs to get some good recruits and build a strong program, which is certainly possible. There are other historically succesful programs in Women’s hoops, like Tennessee, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, and Baylor. There are other programs that can rise to challenge the Huskies. Women’s basketball can be a major sport, but more competitors are needed to elevate the sport. They need a set up something like what the NBA had in the 1980’s. There were two top teams in the Celtics and Lakers, and there were worthy opponents in the Rockets, the 76ers, and the Pistons. There were several talented units that played intense basketball and elevated the sport to a higher level. UConn is doing that by themselves, but no one else is joining them on their pedestal. The Women’s game is simultaneously benefiting and suffering from this, and all decent fans want to see it improve, myself included.