By Parrish Alford / NEMS Daily Journal
If I had to guess, I would say the grave of John Wooden remains undisturbed, its occupant not rolling over.
Wooden coached UCLA to 88 straight wins in the early 1970s. Last week Connecticut’s women won their 89th straight game. Had Wooden been alive – he died almost seven months ago – it’s hard to imagine him being anything less than supportive and encouraging.
Championships don’t come easily, and championship teams require the successful union of coaching, athletic skill and an untold number of intangibles.
All championships are noteworthy, some more than others, and the public decides which achievements, be they championships or winning streaks, it wants to elevate in status.
For that reason, UCLA’s streak will mean more to more people, and comparing UConn’s streak to the UCLA streak, a daily occurrence leading up to the Huskies’ 89th strsight win, is unnecessary. If differences between men and women were so subtle, OBGYNs would be out of business.
The UConn streak is a national story and deserves all the attention it has received. One responsibility of the media is to clearly articulate a story’s magnitude, and this one is big.
It won’t be big enough to change the public’s perception of the game, however.
Consider Tennessee’s Lady Vols and their run of dominance in the 90s. Impressive, yes, but it did not transform collegiate women’s basketball in the Southeast. It did not increase interest and attendance at Alabama, MSU or Ole Miss.
That is done by winning at those individual campuses. The Lady Vols’ success transformed the appreciation for the game in and around Knoxville and other parts of their state.
Lack of an overwhelming interest in the women’s game has nothing to do with the skill level and dedication of female athletes. It has only to do with the public’s appreciation of their achievement.
As we consider the disbursement of space in our section, we lean to the sports we believe drive reader interest.
In the time I’ve been at the Journal we’ve had great players ascend from our high schools to make major contributions in the women’s game at the college level. Three of them have gone on to the WNBA.
At no time have I answered a phone call that challenged our news judgment about women’s college basketball. At no time have I gotten an e-mail that said, “Please cover women’s basketball more.”
This is not an indictment of the game. It has phenomenal speed and skill. It doesn’t have the play above the rim that the men’s game has, but in many ways the women rely on their fundamentals more and are better in some areas because of it.
There are fans who are devotees of women’s basketball, but it’s a stretch to see that number grow substantially even as the game improves and ESPN gives it nationwide exposure.
At the local level, football, basketball and baseball coaches are courting the same fan dollar. Money may not be an issue for some fans, but time is an issue for everyone, and there’s not enough of it to become emotionally invested in seasons that run parallel.
The plate is full for the college sports fan, and the competition to increase share is intense.
The way for the women’s teams to change that is to win big. Win championships and be nationally relevant.
Tennessee and UConn created their rabid followings.
Just like John Wooden created UCLA’s.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ djournal.com.) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.