As I watch UConn continue to dominate in March Madness, I’m growing tired of people saying the program is bad for women’s basketball. UConn winning is not the problem but rather it’s how the media and society frame their success. Oftentimes instead of celebrating or appreciating UConn’s greatness, people use their success to discredit the rest of women’s basketball. People claim that there is no parity within the women’s game and although there is a big jump from the top ten teams to most of the other schools in the NCAA, that’s not to say there isn’t a lot of talent and fun teams to watch besides UConn. People continue to compare men’s and women’s basketball, and view the women’s game as lesser than the men’s. However, people don’t take into account that women’s basketball didn’t become an NCAA sport until 1982 (the first men’s NCAA tournament was in 1939). That’s eighteen years after the start of the UCLA men’s basketball team’s dominance, winning 10 national championships in 12 seasons. So relatively speaking, UConn is essentially dominating at the same point on the timeline of women’s basketball’s development in the NCAA. To compare women’s college basketball side-by-side to men’s is unfair because it ignores the biases and inequalities that women face within the sports world. Young girls and women have not been given the same opportunities as men to participate in sports and until the passage of Title IX in 1972, the participation rates of girls in sports was well below those of boys, not because of a lack of interest but because of a lack of opportunity. Now that more girls are playing basketball there will be more elite players to compete across the NCAA Division I level. To say UConn is bad for women’s basketball is to ignore the fact of how the Huskies have not only pushed others around them to be better but have also put women’s basketball in the spotlight, giving young girls players to look up to. UConn stars such as Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Maya Moore have inspired younger generations of girls to play basketball at a high level.
It’s demeaning for people to discredit UConn’s dominance in women’s college basketball. Because of gender biases, people don’t watch women’s sports at nearly the same rate as men’s sports. When people say women’s college basketball is boring because UConn is guaranteed to win, it’s just another excuse to dismiss women’s sports and reduce its media attention. UConn shouldn’t be blamed or discredited for being great but instead, true basketball fans should admire the amazing athleticism and basketball talent they put on display every game, no matter the score. Although most people have already concluded that the Huskies will win it all this year, anything can happen. Just last year they lost to Mississippi State in the Final Four. Even if UConn regains its status of National Champions this year, I ask you to take a closer look at the other players and teams with incredible talent. With the recruitment of Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Uconn will continue to attract top recruits and be seen as the national championship favorites. But, only thirteen scholarship players can go to UConn. Instead, fans should pay attention to other stories of star players going elsewhere. Like A’ja Wilson, a South Carolina native, who decided to stay in her home state and helped the Gamecocks win the National Championship last year. Other programs are beginning to make a splash in the women’s game and that can be attributed to UConn’s standard of excellence. Take for example the University of Michigan Women’s Basketball team. Coming off one of its best seasons in program history, the Wolverines’ success is in part due to the recruiting ability of head coach Kim Barnes Arico, who recruited top players Katelynn Flaherty and Hallie Thome among other standouts. Flaherty, Michigan’s all-time leading scorer, could have chosen to play for many top teams but decided to help build the Michigan team into a relevant women’s basketball program. It’s important to mention that Kim Barnes Arico beat UConn in 2012 as head coach of St. John’s, breaking UConn’s 99 game win streak. So before you dismiss UConn’s greatness, you should appreciate how their dominance has not only created one of the greatest dynasties in sports but also how it has also continued to help the women’s game grow. Women’s basketball is evolving and it’s time for sports fans to catch up.