COLUMN: Huskies’ run shows need for change
Geno Auriemma barely reacted when the buzzer sounded to signal his 100th straight victory.
Behind him, a sold-out crowd decked in white T-shirts roared in support of the victory. WNBA stars Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart made their way to the court to hug their former coach. But for the Hall of Fame coach, the moment was more of a breath of relief than a milestone victory.
It was, after all, just another win.
UConn women’s basketball is the most dominant athletic program in the history of sports. Period. The Patriots, the Yankees, the Celtics, the Crimson Tide — they don’t even come close. No team has ever won this much and this big for this long without even flinching. We’ll probably never see it again.
In their recent win-streak, the Huskies clinched 98 of those victories by double-digit margins. Of those games, 56 were won by 40 or more points.
That streak extends into last season, when UConn won its fourth-straight national championship and graduated the first, second and third picks in the WNBA draft. With 11 total championship rings, Auriemma still has yet to lose an NCAA championship game.
They’re the best. No one can dispute that. But as Auriemma and his Huskies continue to eviscerate the rest of the NCAA, it raises the question — is all this winning good for women’s basketball?
It’s not that dominant teams are inherently bad for the game. My home team, the Kansas Jayhawks, is one of the most dominant programs in college basketball. Head coach Bill Self has more Big 12 championship rings than home losses in his 14-year tenure in Lawrence. As a fan, I’m not complaining.
But that dynasty isn’t bulletproof. Just a few weeks ago, Kansas dropped a home game to an unranked Iowa State team. That is, after all, the fun of college basketball, and of any sport — anyone can win.
It’s why we call it March Madness, why we sit on the edge of our seats even when the Patriots are down by a handful of touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Because it doesn’t matter how invincible Steph Curry looks when he’s taking that 30-foot jump shot — even he can lose a 3-1 lead.
But when it comes to collegiate women’s sports, the competition just isn’t the same.
College sports for women haven’t been around for as long. Take basketball for example — women didn’t even start playing five-on-five full court until 1971. The first NCAA women’s basketball championship took place in 1982, a full 43 years after the first men’s championship took place.
Because of this, women’s sports are still growing. And amid all of the debates surrounding equal pay and equal coverage, an important issue is missed — how a smaller pool of prospects keeps talent from being equally spread.
With fewer post-collegiate options for female athletes, the competition for collegiate athletics is lower. A few great teams can snap up the top talent, leaving a gaping canyon of talent between ranked and unranked squads.
More than the lack of dunks or the smaller 3-point arc, this disparity in talent is what makes women’s basketball less fun to watch.
So why UConn? That’s easy to answer. Auriemma was named the U.S. women’s national team head coach in 2001. Since then, he’s won 10 NCAA championships and three Olympic gold medals.
The method of recruiting athletes is clear — if you want to be the best, play with the best. It’s hard to argue against the undefeated U.S. coach when defining who is the best coach in the nation. So Auriemma gets the best, year after year.
That has to change. For women’s basketball to be taken seriously, for the game to grow at every level, something will have to give. And as impressive as it is, the end of the UConn dynasty will be the best thing to happen to women’s basketball.
If you don’t believe me, look to NCAA women’s soccer.
For decades, North Carolina stood in the same dominant shoes as UConn basketball, winning 21 national titles in the 34 years that the College Cup has existed. For the entirety of that time, Anson Dorrance served as the head coach. For the first eight years, he also served as the American head coach, just like Auriemma.
North Carolina starters and alumni made up over half of the U.S. roster for almost a decade. Players went to North Carolina because they wanted to play for America, and in the process the Tar Heels created a culture of dominance.
But women’s soccer has changed since then. Thanks to Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, women’s soccer has earned more viewers, more fans and more support with each passing year. And as talent and interest continued to spread, the Tar Heels have won less and less, with new programs rising in the rankings and our own Trojans taking the title this year.
It’s time for that diversity of talent to seep into women’s basketball.
It’s not anything that UConn is doing wrong. They’re just recruiting the best players to the best program with the best coach and winning. A lot. It’s easy to hate the Huskies for winning, but it’s hard to fault them for continuing to succeed. But now it’s time for the playing field to begin to level in women’s basketball.
For now, we can celebrate their legacy. But down the road, when that win streak is snapped and the NCAA trophy is hoisted year after year by a coach other than Auriemma — it will be a victory.
The legacy of women’s basketball will be much more than a collection of dynasties. And though the Huskies might reign now, the sport will truly flourish when it becomes any woman’s game.
Julia Poe is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, Poe’s Perspective, runs on Wednesdays.