Column: ESPN's coverage of women's basketball is shameful

Then junior forward Gabby Williams attempts a layup in last year's South Carolina contest which was broadcast by ESPN (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

On Thursday night, UConn and South Carolina will be at the center of the women’s basketball universe when they face off in Columbia at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The matchup speaks for itself, with the Huskies winning 11 national championships since 1995 and the Gamecocks owning the title of reigning national champions.

UConn will be ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll this week, as it has been since the preseason edition of the poll. South Carolina will likely be ranked No. 7 this week, but certainly will not be lower than No. 8.

This matchup is one of seven women’s basketball games all season that will be broadcast on ESPN’s main channel, according to the company’s preseason press release. UConn was scheduled for four of those seven games, but each of the Huskies’ prior three appearances on ESPN occurred on a Sunday afternoon during the NFL season.

With the NFL far exceeding women’s basketball in popularity, you can’t blame anybody for missing the first three games. Essentially, this is the first time that the best team in women’s basketball will play on ESPN.

UConn alone has played several other games against top competition this season, including matchups against four different teams currently in the Top 15 of the AP Poll. Several other top teams have played each other in a sport that isn’t afraid to schedule tough nonconference opponents. There has been no shortage of opportunities for the sports media giant that is ESPN to broadcast more women’s basketball games.

The headline of that preseason press release I mentioned? “ESPN to Deliver Extensive Coverage of NCAA Women’s Basketball for the 2017-18 Season.”

Claiming “extensive coverage” while only putting the best team on primetime television one time in the regular season is a stretch to say the least. Seven matchups on ESPN over the course of the season is even more of a joke.

For comparison, the Duke men’s basketball team will play on ESPN’s main channel 15 times over the course of this season. FIFTEEN. When Duke was scheduled to play Portland State in the PK 80 Tournament, ESPN let you know for a week in advance with constant commercials hyping up the event.

Portland State is 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference.

Meanwhile, the No. 7/8 team in the country is hosting the No. 1 team on Thursday and we probably won’t see near the amount of hype that Duke vs. Portland State got.

UConn women’s basketball is one of the most dominant programs ever and frequently wins by large margins. If that’s why you don’t support putting a meaningless nonconference game on national television, fine. But I hope you didn’t watch No. 1 Alabama take on No. 3 FSU in a meaningless nonconference game in week one of college football.

Nick Saban and Alabama have won five of the past nine national championships and in the four years they didn’t win, losing a total of eight games. Alabama’s dominance is just as prevalent as UConn’s, yet nobody proclaims “Alabama is bad for football” and the Tide roll onto national television time and time again.

UConn’s matchup against South Carolina should be perfect for primetime television. UConn is undefeated and South Carolina hasn’t lost to a team outside of the Top 11. The best team hitting the road to take on the reigning champs. Two of the best coaches in the sport. A chance for the notoriously successful Huskies to go down in front of a national audience.

Nobody should have a problem with this game being played when they turn on their TVs at 7 p.m. The problem is that it doesn’t happen frequently enough.

The No. 1 team is going on the road to play the No. 7/8 team Thursday night on ESPN. Watch it. Enjoy it. Support women’s sports. And tell ESPN to schedule it more often.


Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.