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UConn Proves Women’s Sports Don’t Need To Come In Second

The women’s basketball program doesn’t take a back seat to the men’s

UConn fans and cheerleaders react to a basket from Crystal Dangerfield of the UConn Huskies against the Baylor Bears on November 17, 2016, in Storrs, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

We here at GOOD Sports have spent December focusing on women’s sports, largely as a counter to the disproportionate amount of coverage men’s sports receives. It’s not difficult to understand how the inequity became reality, but it can be frustrating to see how slowly that reality is changing, if at all. Of course, when it comes to experiencing women playing sports at a high level in front of a passionate fan base and with extensive media coverage, maybe I’m spoiled. After all, I’m from Storrs, Connecticut.


In my home state, there’s something called Huskymania. It describes the fervor around UConn basketball, for which the state’s sports fans are arguably more passionate than they are about any other team. Sure, the Yankees and Red Sox, the Pats and Giants, the Celtics—they all receive plenty of love, but it pales in comparison to the attention and media coverage given to Husky hoops. The program is Connecticut’s own—even more so since the NHL’s Hartford Whalers left the state nearly 20 years ago.

Over the past 17 years, the UConn men’s team has been one of the most successful in college basketball, winning four national championships during that span. And that doesn’t even compare to what the women’s team has done.

Eleven NCAA titles in that same timeframe. A current win streak of 87 games. Past win streaks of 90 and 70 games. Five No. 1 WNBA draft picks, and the top three picks in the 2016 draft.

This is one of the most successful programs—with some of women’s basketball’s biggest stars—in women’s sports history.


Gampel Pavilion hosts UConn basketball games. (Photo by Matthias Rosenkranz via Wikimedia Commons)

I grew up about a mile from Gampel Pavilion (and before that, the Field House), the on-campus home of University of Connecticut basketball. The men’s team won the second-tier National Invitation Tournament in 1988, and two years later—when Gampel opened—they won the Big East and reached the NCAA Tournament Elite 8 on a spectacular last-second shot before falling a buzzer-beater short of reaching the Final Four. The fan and media frenzy (the press contingent following UConn was nicknamed “The Horde”) crescendoed, and Connecticut’s Huskymania was born.

The women’s team, meanwhile, was also finding more and more success, winning some conference titles and making a surprise run to the Final Four in 1991. And while interest and attendance was growing, in the early days of Gampel, my high school friends and I still could get tickets at the door and sit a row or two behind the basket. The women’s games were enjoyable, but not necessarily a “big deal.” Still, all women’s games not on standard cable could be watched on Connecticut Public Television, allowing further growth of fan base.

It didn’t match the men’s program’s popularity, but that was about to change.

In 1995, UConn started an annual game with Tennessee, which sold out in advance. The biggest powerhouse in women’s basketball, led by legendary coach Pat Summitt, visiting the undefeated, upstart Huskies. The game aired on ESPN. The Associated Press delayed its weekly poll to determine which team should be No. 1., and UConn won, becoming the nation’s top-ranked team—not losing the rest of the season and claiming its first title with another victory over Tennessee, no less.

Regularly from then on, the crowds were big—and discernibly higher-pitched than the men’s crowds. There was a large fan base overlap between the two teams, though they weren’t exactly the same group. The women’s games also featured a bit less caustic fan rancor—as one commonly hears at men’s sporting events—toward opposing players. Until UConn-Tennessee, 1999 edition, that is.

The game was televised on CBS. Tickets were being scalped for $200. UConn’s Svetlana Abrosimova and Tennessee’s Semeka Randall tangled for a loose ball, with Randall allegedly sneaking in a cheap shot (though the reality is unclear). Abrosimova was furious, as were the fans, who mercilessly booed Randall for the rest of the game.

And more sports fans were exposed to the intensity at the top levels of women’s basketball.

The following year’s matchup became the first women’s basketball game to be televised live in prime time (ESPN). And fans kept showing up and tuning in.

Fast forward to last season, and Division I women’s basketball attendance was 8,286,356, marking the highest total in the 35 years of NCAA women’s basketball. Sure, there are concerns about UConn’s dominance impacting ratings, as well as whether it’s good for the sport. But fans are attending games in record numbers. Women’s basketball is holding its own.


In 2004 and again in 2014, both the Connecticut men’s and women’s teams won national championships, marking the only two times that has ever been done by the same school in the same year. And UConn, which begins each season with a scrimmage involving both teams playing a co-ed game, honored the men and women with a joint rally/parade. The 2004 celebration brought in 300,000 people, while the 2014 edition drew 200,000 to downtown Hartford. When the men—but not the women—won the championship in 2011, the parade crowd was about 40,000.

This isn’t to say the programs themselves are perfect. The men have run afoul of NCAA regulations on a couple of occasions, and women’s coach Geno Auriemma’s recruiting tactics have come into question now and then. But these types of issues are common—for better or worse—in college basketball, and that’s not even the point.

It’s that within this market, in this sport, the men’s and women’s teams are viewed on equal footing. Other schools have top-notch, championship-caliber teams that draw crowds and ratings in both sports as well, including Notre Dame, Maryland, and Louisville, just to name a few.

Fans gather outside the Connecticut State Capitol for a victory parade for the University of Connecticut men's and women's basketball teams on April 13, 2014 in Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

The U.S. Women’s soccer team is viewed the same way—at least by fans. They are fighting for that to be reflected in paychecks, marketing, and support, as well. You can market the hell out of a bad product and probably see some bump, but it’s not sustainable. But when all the ingredients are there—a great team, a fan base, marketing, media exposure—there’s no reason the fans won’t follow. Which creates more media interest, which bolsters fan interest, and so on and so forth.

ESPN networks were set to broadcast 66 NCAA women’s basketball games this year (more if you include their conference affiliate networks), plus the conference tournaments, and the entire NCAA tournament. Of course, that pales in comparison to the hundreds of men’s games ESPN televises, but once upon a time the fledgling network partnered with the fledgling Big East conference to televise men’s games, and the relationship grew from there and greatly benefited both.

Now ESPN and men’s college basketball are big business with die-hard fan bases.

In other words, for many women’s sports, there’s a long way to go. But this kind of growth has been achieved before. And with the UConns and Notre Dames and Baylors and Tennessees leading the way, it can be done again.

Sports

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





Culture
via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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Politics

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

Health