Huskies’ Dominance Hurts Competition, Interest in Women’s Basketball
The University of Connecticut Huskies cemented the longest winning streak in the history of NCAA women’s basketball Monday night with a landmark 65–55 win over the University of South Carolina. The Huskies have broken the previous win streak record three times. This spring, they will vie for their fifth straight NCAA championship, which would be their 11th title since 2000. The Huskies are as close to a dynasty as it gets.
But while their current win streak and dominance in recent years is fantastic for their fan base, the Huskies’ supremacy is damaging NCAA women’s basketball. Dynasties are only healthy for the growth of a sport up to a point. The Huskies are winning so often and by so much that they are making women’s basketball uncompetitive and therefore uninteresting.
After the UConn women beat Mississippi State University 98–38 in the NCAA tournament last year, Boston Globe Sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy took to Twitter to voice his opinion.
“UConn Women beat Miss St. 98-38 in NCAA tourney,” he tweeted. “Hate to punish them for being great, but they are killing women’s game. Watch? No thanks.”
His tweet was met with outrage from UConn diehards, women’s basketball fans, and Geno Auriemma, head coach of the Huskies.
“When Tiger [Woods] was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf,’’ said Auriemma in response to Shaughnessy’s tweet. “Actually he did a lot for golf. He made everybody have to be a better golfer.” But Auriemma’s comparison of the UConn women to Tiger Woods is farfetched. While Woods had an unbelievable streak of dominance from 1999–2002 in which he won 27 PGA tour events and seven major titles, his run pales in comparison to the UConn women. Woods won majors by close margins and lost his fair share of tournaments during the three-year time period.
From 2001–2003, UConn won 70 games in a row, breaking the longest winning streak in NCAA women’s basketball history. From 2008–2010, the team broke its own record and shattered the longest men’s basketball winning streak set by University of California, Los Angeles by winning 90 games in a row. And as of Tuesday, the Huskies have won 100 games and counting.
But more importantly, the Huskies have continually crushed their opponents in lopsided wins.
Consider the NCAA title games of the last four years. Last season, UConn beat Syracuse University to win the national championship by a score of 82–51. In 2015, the Huskies defeated Notre Dame University 63–53. In 2014, they also played Notre Dame, slaughtering them 79–53. And in 2013, they topped University of Louisville 93–60.
So far this year, the team’s average margin of victory is over 32 points.
I’m all for dynasties, but sports are only interesting when the game is at least somewhat close.
UConn’s dominance has had a direct effect on the number of people who watched the championship games in the past few years. Last year’s championship game clocked in at 2.972 million household viewers, a decrease of 4.1 percent from the 2015 title game and 33.6 percent from the championship game in 2014.
For a sport that is constantly struggling to grow its fan base and attract viewership, UConn’s win streak has hurt women’s basketball overall. No other team will be able to rival UConn if the Huskies continue to grab virtually all of the highest-rated high school players. Since 2011, half of the number one ranked recruits have chosen to play for the Huskies. Until other teams can snag some number ones and begin to compete, viewership of the title game will continue to decline and the growth of women’s basketball will remain stagnant.
In some ways, of course, the domination of the UConn women is a plus for women’s basketball. UConn enjoys sizeable crowds at its games and good publicity. The team’s current winning streak has drawn extensive coverage from ESPN and other outlets, and its players have no doubt become a shining example for young women’s basketball players across the country. It also goes without saying that their streak is one of the most remarkable achievements in sports right now and in NCAA history.
But too many blowouts equals not enough viewers.
“Competition is why we watch sports,” Shaughnessy said in a column written shortly after his controversial tweet. “Without that drama, sports would be no different from the theater, ballet, or symphony.”