Town crier on the state of collegiate women's basketball, based on reading a few headlines, in ...
2016: "UConn is dominant! There's no parity! Is the sport growing?
2006: "Finally, a Women's Final Four without UConn or Tennessee! Just the second time that's happened in 12 years! Is the sport growing?"
1996: "The exact same teams -- Tennessee, UConn, Stanford and Georgia -- are in Women's Final Four as last year! Is the sport growing?"
1986: "Texas is dominant! The Longhorns go undefeated to win the NCAA title. Is the sport growing?
1976: "Delta State is dominant! Two AIAW titles in a row, and they'll probably win next year too. Is the sport growing?"
1966: "Nashville Business College is dominant! Five AAU titles in a row, with no signs of stopping. Is the sport growing?
And with that, we wrap up 50 years of a sport. Pretty much tells the whole story, right? Yeah ... not exactly. There are always the layers and nuances and back stories and near misses and everything else that makes up the mosaic of any sport. You don't actually have to know the exact history to realize that.
But if you do know the history, you know that there have been periods of dominance in women's basketball by various programs, and each one helped to build that mosaic, which is a perpetually unfinished work of art.
However, since we're close to the Women's Final Four, we all know that means the annual dose of "people who rarely watch women's basketball weighing in on the worthiness of the sport." Surprise: They often find it unworthy.
And to this year's overwhelming favorite, UConn, some of these folks have been bestowing and continue to bestow this backhanded compliment: "You're great, and it's not your fault, but you're killing your sport."
I guess somebody needed to tell Syracuse's Alexis Peterson, when she sank to the floor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Sunday, overwhelmed with emotion about leading the Orange to their first Final Four, that her sport is dead or dying. Same for Kelsey Plum and her Washington teammates, who are headed to their first Final Four as a No. 7 seed.
Some critics will say this doesn't mean anything, because UConn will still win the tournament. Under that logic, there is no reason to get very excited about anything in either the men's or women's NCAA tournaments until the championship games. A 15 beats a 2? Who cares, if the 15-seed doesn't go on to win the title?
Now, it's understandable that if someone turning on Saturday's UConn versus Mississippi State blowout said, "This game is boring, and I don't want to watch." It definitely was boring as a competition, however, UConn games always provide a chance to see the best in action, for those who can learn something from them.
But if you turned it off almost immediately? I'm totally OK with that. But it was also just one game in the women's tournament. The night before, two No. 1 seeds who had each lost just once this season, South Carolina and Notre Dame, got knocked out in the Sweet 16. Both of those games were exciting, emotional and exhilarating -- heartbreaking for the favorites, breathtaking for fans.
So does none of that matter if UConn goes on, as we all expect, to win the championship this year with perhaps not even one team coming closer than 10 points to the Huskies in the final score? And if that's the standard of what's worthwhile, do we apply it to every sport?
Or do we acknowledge dominant performances and appreciate what it takes to get there, hope whomever is atop the totem is challenged and then take note of everybody else who's doing something worthwhile?
Look, I don't care if someone turns on a UConn game, sees it's a 30-, or 40-, or 50- or 60-point blowout and says, "I'm not wasting my time on this." I also understand that there are people who love watching the Huskies so much that they revel in every game, no matter the score, especially as we're so close to the end of amazing Breanna Stewart's career at UConn.
But what I don't understand is why people see the need to both denigrate the Huskies' great play -- to, in fact, put them on the defensive about it by treating it like it's really a huge negative -- while also claiming nothing else in the tournament matters.
"What I don't understand is why people see the need to both denigrate the Huskies' great play -- to, in fact, put them on the defensive about it by treating it like it's really a huge negative -- while also claiming nothing else in the tournament matters."
Everyone who covers the sport has gone into exhaustive detail -- not just for the past four seasons, but for the better part of two decades -- about what has made this program so successful:
Geno Auriemma's brilliance as a basketball mind and teacher. Auriemma and Chris Dailey as one of the greatest head coach-assistant partnerships in the history of college sports. Their ability to recruit exactly the types of stars and role players they know will play the game the way they demand it is played. A fan base that has embraced the program to the point of being a little loony about it, as all great fan bases are.
There's also the geographical advantage of UConn being close to many major media outlets, including ESPN and the New York media. This isn't to suggest there's a conspiracy on the part of any of these outlets to participate in extending the UConn dominance. It's just been one of those factors that has helped. Hey, it didn't exactly hurt John Wooden at UCLA to be recruiting players to the land of beaches and Hollywood.
Which brings us, as always, to the UCLA/Wooden comparison. It's been made countless times, and there's a lot of validity to it. It's likely that in those days before social media, there were some in sports media who groused about the Bruins too.
But UCLA didn't kill men's basketball. It raised the bar, and it helped eventually lead to what even many nonsports fans now revel in every year in the men's NCAA tournament.
"UCLA didn't kill men's basketball. It raised the bar, and it helped eventually lead to what even many nonsports fans now revel in every year in the men's NCAA tournament."
The women will never get that amount of coverage or devotion or interest. But they are in their own realm of the giant sports universe -- with one current dominant team and then several teams that are near the top.
Obviously, the Huskies have been setting a standard of excellence for long time. However, it was just four years ago that Baylor went 40-0 and won a championship. And the next year, it was a big stunner when Louisville knocked top-seeded Baylor out in the Sweet 16. This isn't ancient history; it was a few years ago.
Like so much of the actual historical details of women's basketball, though, these things are forgotten or were never noticed in the first place by people who make sweeping statements about a sport they don't even really care or know anything about.
Yes, UConn is great, great, great -- and it can be frustrating to see the Huskies not get challenged even by teams you'd think would be better at that. If you want to say the winner of this year's tournament seems very predictable, you're absolutely right. But the sport itself is not some dumpster fire with villainous too-good-for-its-own-good UConn standing outside pouring on gasoline.
Give the Huskies credit for what they do without simultaneously nullifying it. And remember that history will move on even from UConn, because the Huskies are advancing their sport, not killing it.