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Masoud: Irish could bring much-needed parity

Chris Masoud | Thursday, November 10, 2011

Neither Maya Moore nor Candace Parker play college basketball. Let’s all take a sigh of relief.

In a four-year period from 2007 to 2010, Connecticut and Tennessee claimed two national titles behind two of the game’s most dominant athletes and two of its most accomplished coaches. From 2006 to 2011, Moore and Parker became household names and ambassadors for a sport quickly growing in popularity.

Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt and Huskies coach Geno Auriemma still patrol the sidelines, but Parker and Moore have taken to the WNBA. From 2006 to 2011, the two dominated the game from their play on the court to their influence on aspiring female athletes. Candace could dunk, and Maya could drain a shot from anywhere on the floor. They brought women’s basketball into the spotlight and became household names in the process.

But NCAA women’s basketball has changed dramatically in the last five years from an ESPN-subsidized sport into one of the NCAA’s most marketable institutions. In other words, it’s become profitable.

And for the first time, the sport is tasked with sustaining itself without a marketable superstar.

Parker took on that responsibility, bringing two titles to Tennessee before handing it off in 2008 to Moore, who filled in seamlessly at Connecticut and won two of her own.

When Notre Dame upset the Huskies in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament last season, many were quick to crown then-sophomore guard Skylar Diggins as the natural successor to Moore. Diggins scored 28 points and dished six assists as the Irish advanced to the championship game.

She can drive in the lane, turn the corner, shoot the lights out, pass the ball on a dime and stick a defender. More importantly, just like Candace and Maya, Skylar can take a team on her back through sheer will.

But making her into another “face of the game” is not what the sport needs right now. It needs parity.

It started with an underdog like Texas A&M winning the title last season, and the 2011-2012 season would mark only the second time since 1993-1994 that neither Connecticut nor Tennessee won the national title when they didn’t win it the year before. I think it’s safe to assume no team is winning 90 games in a row again.

Diggins is an unselfish star on a team that needs a willing distributor. Asking her to carry the load alone for the sake of television ratings compromises a Notre Dame team that has a pure scorer in senior Natalie Novosel and a dominating post presence in fifth-year forward Devereaux Peters.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw doesn’t let anything dictate how she runs her team except her own game plan, but even she will have to manage the distractions and media attention a pure talent like Skylar brings. Ruth Riley was a star in her own right, but she played in an environment in 2001 that simply did not feature the expectations and attention it now has today.

This Notre Dame team is good, and all but one starter return from the same squad that fell short of a national title by just six points. The expectations couldn’t be higher.

Winning a championship has and always will be the goal with McGraw at the helm. But when the Irish kick off the season against Akron tonight, they do so under a much broader mandate: bringing parity to women’s basketball.

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.