Tag Archives: Media

Is UConn’s dominance bad for women’s basketball?

So is UConn’s dominance bad for women’s basketball?

Depends what you mean by that.

ESPN brought this up during halftime of an NCAA tournament game broadcast Saturday, and the analysts disputed the idea the Huskies’ being so good has hurt the quality of basketball being played.

I seriously doubt that’s what Dan Shaughnessy meant by his comment that got Geno Auriemma and then the ESPN analysts talking.

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.

Ohio State would not have fired its all-time winningest coach three years ago if it didn’t have eyes on a higher prize than winning the Big Ten (which shouldn’t be taken for granted by any means).

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.

Ameryst Alston, Cait Craft and Kelsey Mitchell speak to the media in Columbus.
Ameryst Alston, Cait Craft and Kelsey Mitchell speak to the media in Columbus.

National writers praise Meyer for Buckeyes’ personality

Interesting nugget from FOX Sports college football reporter Bruce Feldman in the latest podcast between Feldman and colleague Stewart Mandel: 

In the course of a discussion between the Feldman and Mandel about Ohio State potentially repeating and the difficulty of that because of the different variables that come into play, Feldman draws a distinction he’s seen between the Buckeyes and the last team coach Urban Meyer tried to lead to repeat titles at Florida.  Continue reading National writers praise Meyer for Buckeyes’ personality

Ohio State quarterbacks take center stage in spring football

Day two of Ohio State spring football featured chats between reporters and the Buckeye quarterbacks. Well, at least some of them.

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett

As you probably heard by now, only J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones took the opportunity to spend time with the media. A school spokesperson said Braxton Miller was offered the same but declined.

What does that mean? Probably nothing. Miller has never been great in the interview room nor a real fan of the process (which I think any of us in the media can admit is fairly flawed). My general theory on why the former is true is because at his core Miller still sees himself as just a normal guy who happens to be really talented when it comes to football. I asked him if this was the case two years ago at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago and he agreed.

So to me, if Miller doesn’t give great answers in interviews it is because he hasn’t put a lot of thought into what he might say, and that is because he still isn’t convinced any of us should really care. Nothing wrong with that.

As a member of the media, I want guys to come out and talk, but only if they’re really interested in doing so. We waste a lot of time with questions that don’t mean much and get a lot of answers that aren’t really sincere — either because that’s the fastest way to get the interview over with or it just sounds good. And nowadays everything is a soundbite waiting to happen, sometimes in and sometimes out of context.  Continue reading Ohio State quarterbacks take center stage in spring football

To coachspeak, or not to coachspeak….

Holly Anderson asks an important question in light of a world where we alternate between complaining about our sporting folks being boring except when they’re being controversially honest:

If given the chance to play puppet master for your team’s press conference, what would you really want to hear from the men taking the mic? Do you even know?

Charlie Strong and Accepting the Unreality of 110 Percent «.

Nothing Else Matters or The Day That Never Comes?

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I’m stuck between two Metallica songs in my search for a title for this post.

I guess I’m supposed to have a reaction to Ohio State’s response to the NCAA, but I’m kind of burned out on the topic.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: This is news. There are plenty of interesting tidbits in the documents the school released Friday (find them here), but for anyone who has been following along from the beginning, there wasn’t all that much real, substantive news.

So what is the lesson, if there is one?

I think it’s that sometimes what they don’t say matters as much as what they do.

In this case, I’m referring to the fact that the NCAA still has not alleged Ohio State failed to monitor the situation properly or that it exhibited lack of institutional control. I am under the impression the organization could still do that if it sees fit, but there is no concrete reason to expect that at this point.

Many people got all bent out of shape over what they perceive as a light punishment self-imposed by the Buckeye brass, but most of them have already shown themselves to be a little too itchy on that trigger finger.

They’re also missing an important distinction between what has been reported and what the NCAA actually has shown any real concern about, at least enough to express it in writing. As long as that continues to be the case, I suppose we will still have to deal with the howls and those people will have to learn to get over their disappointment.

Ohio State looked a lot better on paper yesterday than it has looked in the press for quite some time, and that is an incredibly meaningful thing.

However, the time for exhaling has not arrived in Ohio quite yet.

The conclusion of Ohio State’s response could be taken as ominous even though it might turn out to be innocuous.

It reads, “Information was reported to the University and the enforcement staff subsequent to the Notice of Allegations that still is being reviewed. This review continues and the University will report any additional violations if necessary in the future.”

This means Ohio State is not quite out of the woods. While obviously vague (and possibly procedural), the reference to further reviews likely has to do with reports former quarterback Terrelle Pryor had multiple dealings with a Columbus photographer who allegedly paid him for autographs he could later sell.

But much like when Maurice Clarett faced charges of accepting extra benefits (not to mention misleading NCAA investigators), this figures to be tough for the NCAA to prove because Pryor left town with indications he won’t be back, at least not to see them, and the photographer is likely in no hurry to talk to them, either.

There has been one unsubstantiated report that a paper trail exists between Pryor and the photographer, but it stands to reason the persons who made that report would have produced proof by now. And if the NCAA actually had such evidence last month, Ohio State likely would have included a response to that charge with the rest on Friday.

What is certain is that nothing is assured until the case is finally heard, and someone is going to be disappointed in the outcome. Whether it is Ohio State and its fans or the sanction hawks throughout the national media and fan bases, only time will tell.

You May Say I’m A Dreamer, But I’m Not The Only One

No, I’m not above using a line from John Lennon to get your attention. Sue me.

Anyway, while I am not surprised to see many people taking their shots at the NCAA and writing the typically lazy columns about how awful it is, I am happy to say I discovered a few people who share my position that blowing up the current system is far from what needs to happen to improve anyone’s lives.

Writes John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus:

It’s a tribute to the NCAA’s peculiar genius for mugging common sense with bylaws that grown people have to invest effort in saying things like: family members of players in the Final Four should be able to receive a little help if they need it to attend the games. This goes without saying. But it’s a long way from here to cries of exploitation and indentured servitude. Mike DeCourcy and Seth Davis have it precisely right. If at some point in the mid-2020s one or both of my two no-longer-little boys are fortunate enough to receive a full ride at a university because they can propel some kind of ball through some kind of goal, I will be the weird old guy you see turning cartwheels down the street and wearing the t-shirt that says “PLEASE EXPLOIT MY KIDS.”

The NCAA is many things, among them a bureaucracy, investigative agency, and most importantly a place where people who went to law school can earn a living without having to work for a law firm. Most of all, though, the NCAA is a wealth-transfer mechanism. The next time you see “the NCAA receives an average of $771 million annually from its TV deal,” add the words, “and redistributes about $730 million of that.” I don’t suppose that’s particularly noble or noteworthy — hundreds of not-for-profits do the same exact thing every day. But apparently it does need to be restated. Some of the largest consumer products companies in the U.S. send a few billion dollars the NCAA’s way each decade, and that money ends up funding bachelor’s degrees at campuses all over the country. If that is where you choose to invest your indignation, have at it. If that is your scandal, I wish you well. It is not mine.

and then today Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post followed with her own reasonable view of things:

Let’s kill the athletic scholarship! A college campus is no place for ballplayers training for professional careers. You know what else is a scandal? How many culinary students end up cashing in as chefs! And don’t get me started on those med school k ids whose only goals are to become doctors.

and

God forbid that commercial interests should sully campuses — unless of course it means major corporations funding supposedly independent academic research. Or scholars sitting on corporate advisory boards and loading up with stock. Especially if it’s Goldman Sachs, and you’re the president of Brown.

and

… our universities are highly commercialized places, touched by many forms of corruption, and they are used as farm systems all the time, by all kinds of professions. Why are we blaming athletes unduly for this?

The answer, presumably, is that it’s easy for lazy people to do without applying a solitary critical thought.

As an added bonus, few subjects better allow writers to take the populist path so directly to a supposed moral high ground.