The Good and Bad of Women’s College Basketball

The passing of Title IX in 1972 put women’s basketball on the national map.  It just took about twenty years for university leaders to get serious about it.  Now, women’s basketball is so popular at many schools that coaches are making six- and even seven-figure salaries!  At these schools, you’ll find sell-out crowds - in large arenas.  Tell me anybody who thought that was going to happen when Title IX was passed and I have a small cup for them to (half) fill.

More young girls are getting opportunities now than ever before.  I ask the girls in my math classes how many of them play sports for our school (the question is regarding equality and how I relate it to equality in the math world, i.e. Title IX says whatever you do for men you have to do for women and math says whatever you do to one side of an equation you have to do to the other side, lest I become the target of a lawsuit for digressing from math to “poisoning” minds of our youth through some chauvinistic means).  After a number of hands go up, I tell them to go home and ask their grandmothers how many of them played high school athletics.  The girls are shocked that their grannies, who might well have been talented athletes told them they didn’t play organized sports in high school - because they weren’t offered.

Because of the victory of, as a good friend of mine refers to it, the “Femini-Nazis” over the “Helmet-Heads,” i.e. Title IX legislation being passed (most people don’t realize Title IX was not really about athletics, but simply equal opportunity) and the strict, to a point of absurdity, interpretation of it, women’s athletic administrators have a problem few, if any of us have - too much money.  I’ve been part of nine NCAA Division I institutions since 1972 and have seen money both put to very good use and ridiculously wasted.

What made me think of this topic were a pair of games played on the distaff side yesterday.  One was a league game in which powerhouse UConn blasted Big East opponent Seton Hall, 91-24.  Even UConn coach Geno Auriemma, not exactly known for his compassion (keep in mind that I worked as an assistant - on the men’s side - at Tennessee for seven years in the ’80s and consider Pat Summitt the best basketball coach I’ve ever been around, male or female), said, “You never want to see scores like (today).  It’s not good for anyone.”

Imagine what he must have felt about the non-conference game between Baylor and Texas State which ended with a Lady Bears’ win, 99-18.  Or earlier in the season when LSU beat Centenary, 92-19.  Although I can’t locate it (since I’m a relative noob when it comes to googling - and finding what I want), I’m certain there was a women’s score (I believe, last week) where the margin of victory was over 90 points!  No college should beat another by that type of score.  First of all, the game should never be scheduled.  In Seton Hall’s case, however, they’d just better hit the recruiting trail a lot harder.

From personal experience, I’ve seen money wasted in the name of Title IX.  Some people, passionate about their cause to the point of being overzealous, simply have their eye on the wrong scoreboard.  To them, it’s about absolute equality: be it regarding spending, practice time & facilities, or even, the number of pages in a press guide.  Yes, I worked at an institution ( and after hearing that story, I thought some of the people should have been committed to an institution) in which the female coach actually counted the number of pages in the men’s and women’s press guides and complained the men’s was larger.  Never mind that there were a number of years in which the men fielded a team and the women didn’t.

Pat put it the best way I’d ever heard when asked about equal distribution of equipment. She responded, “If I ask for 30″ (not sure what exact number she used) “pairs of shoes and you give them to me, I don’t care if the men’s team gets more.  Now, if you give me less than what I need and the men get more, then we have a problem.”  But when it comes to attitude toward all of this equality, she summed it up perfectly - with a two-part answer. 

The first has to do with people in general and the second deals with her focus (and should not be thought of as her feelings for the men because I can vouch first-hand that she is one of the greatest supporters the men’s side has.  When Pat was asked, with all the money UT made, why she didn’t complain, she said:

“First, no one likes a complainer; and second, the men’s program is irrelevant to me.”   

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