Opinion | Women’s basketball deserves better coverage

Final Four is just the gateway for excitement in women’s college basketball

By on April 3, 2018

Arike Ogunbowle’s shot at the buzzer to win the national championship for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team was the signature moment of arguably the greatest Women’s NCAA Tournament of all-time.

But more importantly, it was further evidence that this tournament showed that women’s college basketball is entertaining, despite what many thought just a couple of weeks ago.

The 2018 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament opened with the UConn Huskies blowing out the St. Francis Red Flash, 140-52.

In that game, the Huskies broke the record for most points in the first quarter of a tournament game (55), the most points in a half of a tournament game (94) and the most points in a tournament game (140). The 88-point margin was the second biggest in men’s or women’s tournament history, just one behind Baylor’s 89-point win over Texas Southern in 2017.

The Huskies dominance in that game led to a lot of media discussion as to whether or not UConn was not only bad for women’s basketball, but if it was also making the game boring.

USA Today columnist Josh Peter said that UConn head coach Geno Auriemma should have been embarrassed for winning by such a margin in his column titled “UConn’s 88-point win in the NCAA Tournament is a loss for women’s basketball.”

“Auriemma, in unleashing his superior players, exposed what dilutes his accomplishments — the disparity between the best and the rest in women’s basketball is so significant, they could use a mercy rule,” Peter wrote. “Or a coach who knows how to show mercy.”

Quinnipiac journalism professor Molly Yanity, an outspoken advocate for women’s sports, thinks that it is wrong to use a first round No. 1 seed vs. No. 16 seed game to claim that there is a major disparity in women’s college basketball.

“Honestly, most first round games between (No. 1 and No. 16 seeds) are blowouts,” Yanity said. “There was an anomaly (in the men’s game) this year. There was an anomaly in women’s basketball several years ago.”

Yanity was also quick to point out that in the 1998 game where No. 16 seeded Harvard defeated No. 1 seeded Stanford, Stanford had lost two All-American players between its last game of the season and its first game of the tournament to knee injuries.

On March 23, four days following UConn’s second round victory over Quinnipiac, New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick shared similar thoughts in his column titled “Geno Auriemma is a bad winner and a bully.”

In the column, Mushnick claimed that, “he’s seen dozen of games,” in response to Auriemma claiming that Peter’s didn’t watch the game. Mushnick also wrote that most of the games he’s seen were similar to UConn’s game against St. Francis.

But this must mean that Mushnick missed the second round matchup between UConn and Quinnipiac. The Bobcats, who are a mid-major team, were one of five teams to hold the Huskies to less than 20 points in the first quarter of any game this season. They also held the Huskies to their second-lowest first half point total of the season, holding them to 33 points.

Even though the Bobcats were trailing by 15 points at the half, they did have their chances throughout the second quarter to make it a close game. However, they only made one of 12 3-pointers they shot in the half and UConn would eventually go up by 20 points late in the third quarter.

That game is only part of the reason that showed the media’s ignorance towards women’s college basketball.

For example, four mid-major teams won games in the first round in the tournament and eight of the lower-seeded teams won their first round matchups.

The defending champs and No. 2 seeded South Carolina, who also had Naismith national player of the year A’Ja Wilson, only won its first round game game at home against No. 15 seeded North Carolina A&T by 11 points. It also only won its second round game at home against No. 10 seeded Virginia by 10 points.

Two No. 11 seeds made it to the Sweet 16 in this year’s tournament. And both of those No. 11 seeds (Buffalo and Central Michigan) won its second round games, on the road, against No. 3 seeded power conference teams by at least 15 points.

Heck, only one of the four No. 3 seeds actually made it to the Sweet 16, meaning that three No. 3 seeds were upset early in the tournament.

And sure, all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four, but they are the four best teams in the nation for a reason. And those four teams gave us one of the best Final Fours of all-time, men’s or women’s.

The first Final Four game, which was between the Louisville Cardinals and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, went to overtime after the Bulldogs tied the game up with seconds left in regulation. Mississippi State went onto win that game, 73-63.

The second Final Four game was one for the ages.

The vaunted UConn team that had only lost one game in the last two seasons, a team that was deemed to be too unfair by many, was upset by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 91-89, when Ogunbowle made her first of two buzzer beaters of the weekend.

The women’s Final Four was also more exciting than the men’s as all three of the men’s Final Four games were decided by double-digits.

But with that being said, there are some people who still don’t respect women’s basketball. Yanity mentioned the replies to ESPN personality Darren Rovell’s tweet where he implied that the women’s Final Four was more exciting than the men’s.

“You would have thought that he had just gone and cut off the balls of every single man that’s out there,” Yanity said.”I was just looking at this and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He’s not saying that the women should have more sponsorship or have more viewership. He just said that it was more exciting. I was just stunned, and I don’t understand why I’m so stunned constantly, but I don’t understand what’s so threatening about saying that three women’s college basketball games were more exciting than the men’s.”

What Yanity hopes, and what I hope, is that this Final Four will help fix is the media coverage of the women’s tournament. ESPN, who covers the women’s basketball tournament, seems to focus on UConn’s feats in a first round game more than the rest of the games in the tournament. And what UConn did in the first round is deserving of coverage, but by highlighting that it presents a narrative that one team is head-and-shoulders above everyone else.

“This is really going to sound rude, but what I hope that people who don’t know what they are talking about will just shut up,” Yanity said. “And when I say that, I mostly mean male sports columnists that spout off. That jump in after not watching a women’s college basketball game all season, go off about UConn destroying its first round opponent.”

While this weekend’s Final Four may have introduced the excitement of women’s college basketball to the nation, it really was just the exposure of something that had not received proper attention.

 

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About Conor Roche

Twitter: @ConorRoche27