Of course this is the trouble with framing a debate around a tweet (something I try to avoid), but it also doesn’t really matter what he meant.
I’m not here to say if he was right or wrong. I don’t really care. While not exactly a new concept, it’s still an opinion that’s fair to express and a discussion worth having.
Does the dominance of Auriemma’s teams lessen the quality of the game overall? I can’t imagine anyone would argue it does. Is there any sensible way to make that case? Maybe, but I can’t think of one. Obviously there is no shortage of college teams out there trying to build a title contender.
Plenty of teams are shooting for UConn, and many more are out there looking to jump from whatever level of competitiveness they currently occupy to the next one.
Now, is the Huskies’ seeming invisibility bad for the growth of the popularity of the game? Probably so.
I certainly can’t blame anyone who looks at their scores and figures there’s no point in investing much time in watching the women’s tournament. There’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar these days, and every little bit hurts when it comes to trying to get noticed.
It’s one thing to wonder if a team like last year’s Kentucky men’s squad can go undefeated but another to be pretty certain UConn will. (Especially since we’ve seen multiple women’s teams — and not just Connecticut — go undefeated in recent years while no men’s team has done so in decades.)
In his response to Shaughnessy’s Tweet, Auriemma made reference to Tiger Woods dominating golf at the turn of the century, a worthwhile analogy no matter which side of this debate you fall on.
“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. And they did. And now there’s a lot more great golfers because of Tiger.”
I’m not sure if Tiger made golf significantly more popular (maybe he did, but I’m pretty sure it was already very popular), but he probably made it appeal to a broader audience.
Although I remember a time when he seemed to be unbeatable — at least in majors — he wasn’t inspiring people to turn off their TV sets. There was a reason to watch, whether it was to see someone do something that had never been done before or to root for him to get knocked off his perch.
Woods also set a new example of how to play the game at an elite level, and a new crop of talented players came along to challenge him eventually.
If anyone has done that for women’s basketball, it was probably Tennessee. The Lady Vols were the first dominant program of the tournament era, which started in the early 1980s. They set a standard for people who might not have thought about getting into the game before to aspire to.
It’s probably not a stretch to say Tennessee begat Connecticut. The Volunteers were deep into their run before the Huskies really got going.
With multiple historic winning streaks and now more national titles, the Huskies appear to have passed Tennessee as the best program of all time.
The thing about UConn is Auriemma’s teams aren’t great because he simply recruits better players than everyone else.
He certainly does recruit great players — and all of his great teams have been built around a transcendent one for her time period — but the Huskies’ dominance (as opposed to just winning a lot) is more a product of the culture he has put in place. “Culture” has become a cliche in sports, seemingly more so lately than I can recall in the past, but it’s really hard to miss the fact something different is going on when you watch Connecticut play.
I got to see it first-hand in November when the Huskies visited Ohio State. While coach Kevin McGuff has his Buckeyes on the upswing, they were thoroughly crushed 100-56 by Connecticut at Value City Arena.
It was striking because while Ohio State played competitive games on the road against South Carolina and Notre Dame —the second- and third-ranked teams in the country — the Buckeyes were knocked out early by Auriemma’s club in front of a big, friendly home crowd.
The results pretty much confirmed what most probably already at least suspected: This season there is UConn and everyone else.
The striking thing about UConn was that despite their status as the three-time defending champions, even though Auriemma had multiple players who were the best recruits coming out of their states as high school seniors, the Huskies played really, really hard. There were no letups. They were relentless on the defensive end and efficient on offense.
No matter who he put in the game, they played like they were at an open gym with one roster spot available. It was their first game of the season, but the defending champions played like there was no tomorrow.
Afterward, Auriemma was asked what makes his team so good at going on those knockout runs.
“I wish I had the definite answer to that — I really don’t,” he said before basically explaining it in full.
“I think it might have something to do with the intensity level that we bring that generally doesn’t waiver. So we’re not a spurt team. We don’t spurt and then stop and then try to pick up another spurt later and then stop. We play. And then when we have an opportunity to get one, it fuels us. And we just keep going. And we still back up a little bit. There were times we did some stuff that we’re not proud of, but we’re not one of these teams that when we get up a little bit we relax. I don’t have those kinds of players. We don’t practice like that and I don’t coach like that.”
So to me the idea Auriemma isn’t just building practically unbeatable teams because he plucks the top three or four players from the top of the recruiting lists every year is a good thing for the game. (For what it’s worth, he doesn’t dominate recruiting the way John Calipari and Nick Saban do.)
But another part of Auriemma’s response to Shaughnessy also shows the downside of dominance.
“Nobody’s putting a gun to your head to watch. So don’t watch. And don’t write about it. Spend your time on things that you think are important. If you don’t think this is important, don’t pay any attention to it. The fact that you have to comment on it, says something about you, doesn’t it? We are where we are. We are what we are. You know? We do what we do. We do what we do.”
I see where Auriemma is coming from, but to me more people watching and talking about women’s basketball is important for the growth of the sport, so one shouldn’t totally dismiss those who might lose interest because they already know who’s going to win.
It’s worth noting Woods lost more often than UConn does even when he was at the top of his game. There is only one “major” every year in college basketball, and a little more than a week from now, Huskies will have won six of the last eight with four undefeated seasons mixed in there. Last year, they beat Notre Dame by 10 points in the final. The year before that, it was a 21-point win over the Fighting Irish, and in 2013 they slipped by Louisville by 33 to claim the title.
That isn’t good for ratings. Lately it appears to be just one more thing that gets people talking about the wrong things.
On the other hand, it isn’t deterring anyone at Ohio State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Maryland, etc. from trying to change the narrative next year, either.
First on helmets and shoulder pads: Drew Magary admits he’s not the first person to raise this point, and he’s right. Joe Paterno, who played in leather helmet era, suggested getting rid of the facemask before his death, and I’m sure there have been others.
The NCAA does itself no favors by continuing to keep up the PR front that it is all about preserving amateurism because that word has lost whatever power it ever had, but maybe U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken did the organization a favor by weeding out such arguments up front. Continue reading On the O’Bannon decision and NCAA autonomy→
As the Ed O’Bannon case against the NCAA opens in California, it appears the outcome is more a game-changer than a foundation-shaker. That’s probably a good thing for all involved.
While there was a period of time when the potential for huge damages hung over the heads of the NCAA and its partners, the goal of the plaintiffs has shifted to determining if players have been getting cheated out of profits garnered from TV broadcasts, video games and more over the years and then figure out how to fix that.
This is the No. 1 issue that the NCAA could have and should have gotten out in front of without truly changing its model to a drastic degree (despite what they say). Yet it also seems like the one it is least interested in addressing aside from actual direct salaries for players. It also happens to be the best possible compromise for both sides, not to mention the many millions who sit on the sidelines either as fans, media, sponsors or entrepreneurs.
I think all of these parties should be considered not from from a legal standpoint but a practical one. That’s because without the latter there is nothing for the two parties in court to argue about.
The NCAA does not seem to see a difference between paying players a salary and allowing them to profit off their image (which for this purpose means appearance, reputation, etc.), and that could be a fatal mistake, perhaps more because of other cases it faces than this one.
While the O’Bannon case has been characterized as many things, it has boiled down to the area where the NCAA could most easily call for a truce and get out with a relatively similar model to the one it has already been maintaining for decades.
There have been those who call O’Bannon bitter for not being able to make it in the NBA and thus needing to hit the NCAA to make up the shortfall he might feel his talents deserved. Those people are missing the point. In fact, they zoomed right by it. O’Bannon, a college star who never did much in the pros, is the perfect example of the relatively small percentage of athletes who do genuinely end up getting a raw deal in this whole college arrangement. His example is also noteworthy because he would not have been such a big deal in college (maintaining name recognition more than a decade later) if he hadn’t played at and delivered a national championship to a school that is so steeped in a tradition of winning.
I maintain the great majority of players end up getting more out of their scholarship (when considering the education, the experience and the various other benefits) than they are really worth to the school, and many of those who outperform the value of the scholarship are still made whole by multimillion-dollar contracts signed at the age of 19-22, contracts (with not only their pro team but also endorsers) that are in many cases more valuable than they would have been without the opportunity to perform on a college platform that has often been developed over many years and affords much greater effect than any available alternative that exists or could reasonably expect to be formed.
It’s been said before, but it’s not the NCAA’s fault the NFL hasn’t created a minor league or that the NBA’s domestic minor league doesn’t pay enough to make it an attractive option for those who don’t want to go to college or even avoid going overseas. It’s also not the NCAA’s fault the public isn’t interested in attending or watching the D-League or it’s NFL alternative, but that’s something that should not go overlooked.
Now, a victory by O’Bannon would change things in some significant ways for college athletics. There is no denying that. But without having to worry about taking a huge financial hit up front, the schools that make up the NCAA would have the opportunity to redraw budgets to account for distributing more of their revenue directly to those teams that generate it, and that time should allow for figuring out ways to move around their money without taking away too many opportunities for athletes in other sports.
In their rush to rail against the current college athletics model, many ignore the fact just about all of the money college teams bring in is spent by the athletics departments on athletics teams and therefore its athletes. However, anyone who has toured a college facility recently knows there are plenty of places they could be just a bit less lavish to save money to spend on the lacrosse and track teams without significantly hurting the experience of the football and basketball players.
Are the players better off with a few more bucks in their pockets than they are having the school spend lavishly on them in the form of facilities, training, food, tutors and publicity? I’m sure that would vary some by case, but I’m not going to make that overall argument either way because it probably won’t affect the outcome.
Of course, NCAA schools can probably open the door for athletes to market themselves without losing much of anything they bring in now. Let the market bear what it will for them while continuing to refine their experience with better food, better training, better health care and enough money to cover the full cost of education (all things that seem to be on the way already). That makes whole those who are notable enough in college to be able to argue they should get significantly more than they already do without taking anything away from the 85th man on the roster. It provides some insurance to players such O’Bannon or maybe even a Michael Sam or a Troy Davis or Colt McCoy or Troy Smith who can dominate in college but might not have the skill set to make it big in the pros. Guys like those can and do profit off their likeness for years to come after college is over, but it stands to reason there is more to be made while the iron is hottest.
This whole debate is really important because I do get the impression from fans on social media, our message board and beyond that their appetite for supporting college sports would be diminished if the players became true employees who were bid on by teams openly like players in the NFL, MLB, etc. This is a debate that has been going on since scholarships first became offered and regulated many decades ago, and truth be told compensation is compensation in my book. If athletes were paid a salary instead of a scholarship, it would not make much difference to me. I do believe they are being compensated for a service, and so in that sense are employees (even though I think the arguments applied in the Northwestern case don’t fit that definition as compared to other examples of college students’ experiences, that’s a legal debate, not a common sense one), but apparently that is not a consensus. And if there is a consensus out there indicating the market for college sports will dry up if the players become true employees, even if the overall experience is basically the same in its essence but looks different from the outside, then the idea of change should not be taken lightly. Whether it is the players or the colleges risking the slaying of the golden goose doesn’t matter. In many cases, practicality overrides morality, and this could be one.
Of course, the possibility exists that even letting players do endorsements could turn off the general public, but that has not happened with Olympic sports. Does the general public care that Olympic athletes are not paid, per se, for competing, or does that even register in their perception of what is going on? Maybe the Olympics, like long-famous colleges, simply trump all from a marketing standpoint thanks to their tradition and the same would be true in college athletics regardless of how the athletes are further paid. I’m not sure it’s worth finding out or necessary, but maybe there won’t be a choice.
It’s safe to say the pair of young men who shared the Northwestern quarterback duties for the past two seasons do not see eye to eye on the issue of the Wildcat football team unionizing.
While Kain Colter has been the face of the movement since he completed his eligibility after last season, Northwestern senior-to-be Trevor Siemian voiced his opinion against today on a teleconference the Big Ten held for coaches and players from the West division to discuss spring football with the media. Continue reading Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian talks CFB unionization→