Tonight, the UConn women’s basketball team is poised to secure their 100th win against No. 6 South Carolina, a winning-streak that dates back to Nov. 23, 2014 and includes two national championships. The milestone further cements the team’s place as the most dominant team in college basketball history – beating their own record and surpassing the prior record of 88-straight wins by John Wooden’s UCLA men’s team not once, but twice – and in college sports’ history. Those who consider themselves true Huskies fans will be found at Gampel cheering on the team tonight, or if unable, supporting them and watching elsewhere.
UConn is no stranger to making history, or outside attention from those curious as to how they seem to do it so often and so easily. The team will be the focus of a new HBO Miniseries, “UConn Huskies: The March to Madness,” which will chronicle the 2016-17 season in which they tied the UCLA record for 11 national championships – and show that their domination is anything but easy, but rather the result of hard work, dedication and a commitment to a core philosophy. The value and time that Geno Auriemma and the team put into self-improvement, challenge and teamwork resonates beyond just the court, and inspires UConn fans in Storrs and nationwide.
The team is an incredible source of pride in Storrs, and has amassed a loyal and strong fan base. Yet, they still don’t receive the credit they deserve, for many different reasons. One, articulated by Head Coach Geno Auriemma, is the price of “being great” in general, amplified in an era of social media where many are quick to point out flaws in others, rather than be introspective and look at their own areas for growth and self-improvement.
“Being great means you have to put yourself out there, and you’re going to be held to a real high standard. With the world as it is today, every time you put yourself out there, you open yourself up to a lot of opinions,” Auriemma described what it was like being at the top, and then continued, “I think a lot of kids today are just really OK with being, ‘I’m pretty good – I just don’t ever want to be lousy, but I also know if I take that chance at being great and I come up short, I don’t want to face that.’ A lot of people don’t ever reach their potential because they’re afraid.”
The second reason why the team does not get as much credit as they deserve is, sadly, no surprise: there is still a vast disparity in attention between men and women’s sports. There are many theories for this. For one, sports are still heavily associated with masculinity – although the values that the UConn women’s team puts into action every practice and game are truly genderless. Men’s sports also tend to be much higher paying and more lucrative, allowing for more media attention and coverage which reinforces the disparity. Girls themselves are also more likely than boys to drop out of spots by the age of 14, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, although playing sports provides many benefits for both physical and mental health, including confidence and improving attitudes towards risk-taking – two important parts of “being great” in the UConn tradition.
Frank Deford, a commentator for NPR, theorizes that part of it is also, “Inertia:
[The media] covered things one way for so long. Women are pretty new to big-time sports, and perhaps the media hasn’t caught up with them.” The UConn women are certainly leading the change in momentum. Back in 2014, a Women’s Basketball White Paper Summit was held where Geno Auriemma led a discussion about how to grow and draw more excitement for women’s basketball – as there is “‘a tremendous appetite for change’ in the way the sport is played, marketed, and managed” to appeal to a wider audience. Similarly, there have been positive changes in women’s soccer, where the U.S. women’s national team is expected to generate more revenue than the men’s team in both 2016 and 2017, according to projections the U.S. Soccer Federation. All of this challenges stereotypes by showing more female athlete role models and building a fan base, while providing more opportunities to cheer for our favorite teams.
On and off the court, tonight and tomorrow, the UConn women’s basketball team is changing the game. Go Huskies.