Former Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw said on a podcast released on Wednesday that ESPN is "Connecticut's network" and that there is "absolutely complete bias there."
McGraw, speaking to Kate Fagan and Jessica Smetana on their "Off the Looking Glass" podcast, was asked if UConn has an "outsized" influence on women's basketball.
"Absolutely," said McGraw, who retired after the 2020 season and now works as an analyst with the ACC Network, which is owned and operated by ESPN. "UConn has done great things, and they've won way more than anybody else, except Tennessee. What they've done has been amazing. I think people measure their team by them. When joined we the Big East, we were like, 'We want to get to where they are. That's what we want to be. We're trying to emulate them.'
"But I think it goes over the top with ESPN. That is Connecticut's network. Notre Dame has NBC, Connecticut has ESPN. That is absolutely complete bias there."
McGraw won two NCAA titles with Notre Dame, and beat the Huskies in the national semifinals both years that happened: in 2001 and 2018.
UConn has won 11 NCAA titles under coach Geno Auriemma. The Huskies have made the women's Final Four 21 times, including every year since 2008, a streak of 13 in a row. Tennessee has eight NCAA titles, the most recent coming in 2008, and 18 total NCAA women's Final Four appearances.
"I think there's an incredible bias with their players," McGraw said of UConn. "If you recruit a kid and she's ranked 35th in the country and she signs with UConn, the next time the poll comes out, she's 18th."
McGraw also pointed out that four UConn players were among the Naismith Trophy preseason watch list of 50 players released in November.
"I think all of their players are on some kind of a watch list right now. They have ... four candidates on the player-of-the-year watch list," McGraw said. "You saw their game after they lost Paige [Bueckers] ... you have to wonder, 'Do they really have three other player of the year candidates?' But I think there's such a bias in the media that they just go that way."
Bueckers suffered a knee injury in the closing minute of a 73-54 victory over Notre Dame on Dec. 5, and is expected to be out at least through early February. The 6-3 Huskies lost their subsequent game to Georgia Tech 57-44 on Dec. 9, beat UCLA 71-61 on Dec. 11 and lost to Louisville 69-64 on Dec. 19.
UConn has had four games broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC this season, with two still to come. However, most of the Huskies' games are broadcast on SNY, and Fox is the official network of the Big East, including its conference tournament.The ACC and SEC networks, both owned and operated by ESPN, broadcast multiple women's basketball games each week from those leagues throughout the season, along with covering those conference tournaments.
McGraw also said that Auriemma, who was the U.S. national team coach for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics had too much influence on that team. She referenced remarks by the Chicago Sky's Candace Parker earlier this month in which Parker, a Tennesee graduate, told Bleacher Report's Taylor Rooks that she and Auriemma didn't like each other and that he didn't want her on the 2016 Olympic team after she had played for Team USA in 2008 and 2012.
"I think if you read anything that Candace Parker said -- 'I didn't make the USA team because Geno didn't like me' -- and I think that's absolutely true," McGraw said. "I think he totally controls who makes the team and who doesn't."
Auriemma was not on the national team's selection committee during his time as coach, but was on the committee for the 2020 Olympics, where the team was coached by South Carolina's Dawn Staley. The 2020 team, which competed in the Tokyo Game this summer, consisted of five former UConn players, two from Notre Dame, and one each from South Carolina, Baylor, Duke, LSU and Texas.
There was controversy that former Stanford player Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks did not make the team; she is the only former WNBA MVP not to make an Olympic squad.
UConn and Notre Dame have a series dating back to 1996, with the Huskies leading 39-13. That includes eight meetings in the women's Final Four, where Notre Dame leads 5-3; all of the Irish victories were in the national semifinals. UConn won both times the programs played in the NCAA finals, in 2014 and 2015.
McGraw told Fagan and Smetana regarding the UConn-Notre Dame rivalry, "I felt like my relationship with Geno was very well-publicized and at different times I would say things and it would be this giant story of how awful it was. I had older women coaches say, 'You've got to knock that off. That's not how you're supposed to be.' And he could say anything he wanted.
"So there was completely different views on what they would accept from a woman. And even with the players. He would say things to his team, and I'd be like, 'Dang! I would never say that to my players.' And they'd accept it because you look at guys and you're like, 'Yeah, he's just kind of a jerk sometimes.' Because we expect men to be that way sometimes. But with women, we're so sensitive, like, 'Well, maybe she doesn't like me.' We expect different things from women leaders."
Auriemma, contacted by ESPN, said he had no comment on McGraw's remarks.