Wednesday, December 22

It is of no consequence

I was interested to read UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma's comments about his team's 89-game win streak, considering just how far from reality Auriemma appears to operate. As you may have heard, the 89 straight W's is a NCAA Division I women's record, and is in fact a higher number than the 88 posted by UCLA's men's team back in the day.

I've been a bit surprised by the amount of ESPN coverage this has garnered, inasmuch as women's basketball isn't a hugely popular sport. Honestly. It's just not a major factor on the sports landscape. No one really cares about this streak. Hell, most of us don't even care about men's basketball until March rolls around. As Jim Caple put it in a collection of ESPN contributor responses to the non-story, "I'm sorry, Geno. Has your team done something noteworthy? I've been too busy filling out my bowl bracket to notice." Indeed.

But back to Geno. First, this remark from a press conference prior to their 89th straight win:

I just know there wouldn't be this many people in the room if we were chasing a woman's [sic] record. The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record, and everybody is all up in arms about it.
Who's having a heart attack? Who's up in arms? Who even knows this is happening? I didn't know they were closing in on the same number of wins as UCLA's men's team from many moons ago, nor do I care now that I do know. Earth to Geno: people aren't real invested in women's college basketball. It's nothing personal.

And no matter what ESPN or anyone may claim, UConn is most certainly not "threatening to break a men's record." UCLA's record will remain intact no matter how many games UConn runs off, because it's not the same level of play. I assure you, not one reasonable observer will consider UCLA's record as having been eclipsed if UConn achieves a greater number of consecutive wins, any more than they would if a Division III men's team rolled off 89 straight or if I beat Contra 89 times without dying. I simply can't understand how anyone thinks this apples-to-oranges situation has anything to do with UCLA's achievement, but some ESPN staffers apparently do. Ramona Shelburne's take on the situation was headlined "After saying goodbye to John Wooden earlier this year, former UCLA players now might have to say goodbye to a win streak they owned alone. But they're certain of one thing: Coach Wooden wouldn't have minded"

UCLA definitely does not have to say goodbye to their win streak. They still have the longest win streak in NCAA Division I Men's Basketball history. This nonsense of calling UConn's the longest in "Division I" history is intellectually dishonest because Division I basketball is not a single entity. It has two sub-classifications, and UConn has established the standard in one of them, which happends to be the one with a lower level of ability. And of course Wooden wouldn't have minded, because, once again, it has nothing to do with UCLA's mark. ESPN's Roy S Johnson builds a bridge way too far with his comment that, "Some of us actually put this feat on par with that of John Wooden's UCLA teams (which defeated some teams during its streak that would have probably lost to the Huskies, as well)." Let's agree to disagree, Roy.

Sorry, I forgot about UConn's attention-grabbing coach! Check this out:

All the women are happy as hell and they can't wait to come in here and ask questions.
This sounds like a lot of fun - I'm glad they're enjoying it. I'd like to achieve that sort of excellence myself - I was giddy after my rec league team moved to 3-1 the other night.

All the guys that loved women's basketball are all excited,
I have never once ever met such a person, but go on.

and all the miserable bastards that follow men's basketball
Hold on a second. I follow men's basketball and don't consider myself a miserable bastard, but thanks for asking, Geno. This is actually really annoying - you don't get to call me names and put me on the defensive like this just because your sport is mostly irrelevant. I reject this idiotic blanket generalization as wrong and unfair.

and don't want us to break the record are all here because they're pissed. That's just the way it is.
No one is pissed. No one really cares. You can never break UCLA's record because it's not the same game.

Because we're breaking a men's record, we've got a lot of people paying attention
You're not breaking a men's record. Please, please, please understand this.

If we were breaking a women's record, everybody would go, 'Aren't those girls nice, let's give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let's send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.'
Don't play the sexist card on me, you weirdo. Being indifferent to women's athletics and recognizing that they aren't at the same level as a men's team is different from the overtly sexist mentality you describe here. This is completely uncalled for and unfair. I think it's great that women play sports because I know how much enjoyment I personally get out of playing, and I recognize the excellence of UConn's play. But that's totally different from thinking they're somehow better than a UCLA team that competed at a much higher level.

Jemele Hill from ESPN contributes probably the most wrongheaded take out of the bunch ("Unfiltered and Right"):

Geno Auriemma is the Ozzie Guillen of women's college basketball. I don't mean that in a negative way.
Any comparison to Guillen should definitely be meant in a negative way. We're not off to a good start here.

Auriemma, like Guillen, is brutally honest and whenever Auriemma speaks his mind, it's guaranteed to create headlines.
This is not necessarily a good thing.

His assertion that gender is playing a role in the coverage of his record-breaking Connecticut team is, like many of his observations, ringing with truth.
It's also super-obvious.

Had his Huskies not equaled the 88-game winning streak set by John Wooden's UCLA teams from 1971-74,
Which, once again, they have not because they don't compete at the same level.

it would be largely ignored by the mainstream media.
Because women's basketball isn't a major draw. Didn't we already cover this?

When female athletes or women's sports teams achieve something significant, it is routinely - and annoyingly - characterized by how it compares to men. As if any woman's accomplishment can only be validated by male standards.
Oh, please, Jemele, get off your high horse.

The bottom line is this: UConn's achievement is remarkable, and the women deserve credit for such sustained excellence. But Auriemma's attention grab isn't going to make people care about their game. And UConn's success does not in any way impinge upon UCLA's record because that was men's basketball, and men are much better at basketball than women. There are two records: UCLA's, and UConn's. Both are impressive, though UCLA's was achieved at a higher level of competition. Now, let's return to caring about the NFL and NBA.

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