UConn Women's Basketball Team Confronts Consequences Of Being 'Too Good'
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This year's University of Connecticut women's basketball team is the stuff of video games, not real life. The Huskies are beating teams by an average of 40 points. The three-time defending champion is undefeated heading into this weekend's final four, and they're on a 73-game winning streak. And as everyone expects UConn to win its record fourth consecutive title, there's some that wonder if being this good is actually a bad thing for women's basketball. Joining us now is David Ubben. He covers college sports for the website Sports on Earth. Welcome to the program.
DAVID UBBEN: Thanks. I'm glad to be here.
CORNISH: So Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Glove riled up the Internet when he tweeted during UConn's 60-point victory over Mississippi State in the Sweet 16. He said, quote, "hate to punish them for being great, but they're killing women's game. Watch? No thanks." OK, so, David Ubben, this is a seriously backhanded compliment. What's going on here?
UBBEN: I think a lot of people do believe, when you have teams that are this far out in front of the pack, it's like running a marathon where the guy that's ahead is, you know, five miles ahead of anyone else that's on the track. It's kind of pointless to watch.
CORNISH: What? We love that guy. That guy's the greatest runner ever. That's why we watch it.
UBBEN: In theory. You know, this is not a dynamic that's limited to women's basketball. I think when you have things that are this dominant, when they aren't unprecedented, people tune out.
CORNISH: All right. Well, coach Geno Auriemma was asked about Shaughnessy's comments after another recent tournament rout. Here's how he responded.
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GENO AURIEMMA: When Tiger was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf. Actually, he did a lot for golf. He made everybody have to be a better golfer.
CORNISH: So what's your answer to this?
UBBEN: It's not a great argument. Tiger Woods isn't recruiting the best golf balls and the best golf clubs to come play for him. Tiger Woods is the golfer. And when he plays, he's not preventing anyone else from getting better. But Geno Auriemma has to recruit, every single year, the best women's players in the country. So when he gets a good player, somebody else doesn't get a good player. And so when you're asking everyone to improve your game, well, you could start by handing off some of those good players to other programs. And that's a ludicrous request, but UConn's still going to be out in front as long as Geno keeps getting the best players and developing the best players. It's a credit to them, but it's still not helping the women's game.
CORNISH: What do you say to women, especially young women players, who hear this and may think that this kind of argument from Shaughnessy and others is essentially sexism passed off as sports opinion, right? I mean, the idea being that women - we don't want to watch them. They're not as good, until they're really good, and then we say we don't to watch them because they're really good. I mean, this is - this is seeming very much like a catch-22.
UBBEN: Yeah, I think there's certainly something to that. And I think it's a tough line because I think that it's hard to sort out. And a lot of times, it's hard to have honest conversations about, how do we improve the women's game? How do we fix these issues without sort of being drowned out by, well, you're being a sexist.
CORNISH: In the meantime, is there any chance that UConn could use lose this weekend to Oregon State in the national semifinals or in a title game?
CORNISH: Are you still going to watch?
UBBEN: (Laughter). I'll probably tune in. That's one thing that Geno Auriemma is unbelievable about doing. He keeps his team invested. They're competing against themselves. We want to be as good as we can be. It's incredible to watch. Geno Auriemma is a fantastic coach - one of the best in the history of the game.
CORNISH: That's David Ubben. He covers college sports for the website Sports on Earth. Thanks so much.
UBBEN: Thank you, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.