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O’Connell: Connecticut’s dominance makes game better

| Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Golden State Warriors are 69-9 on the season. Only a sparse handful of teams have been able to keep a close game with the phenomenal talent on their roster. I hate to punish them for being great, but they’re killing the NBA.

Not that the Warriors shouldn’t try to win all of their games — and we certainly don’t want to impose rules or regulations to limit their effectiveness. But it’s not fun for viewers and it’s not good for the sport. Who, after all, would want to watch superior basketball when we could simply watch a lower-quality — but more competitive — product? Golden State’s dominance is not good for the NBA or the promotion of basketball as a sport.

This, of course, is a ridiculous argument. Nobody would ever in a thousand years accuse the Golden State Warriors of being bad for the NBA, much less the sport of basketball as we know it. And yet there are pundits, amateur writers and fans across social media whom seem convinced the dominant Connecticut women’s basketball team, who just won its unprecedented fourth-straight national championship, are just that: bad for the game.

The argument seems to be not that UConn is too good at what they do, or that women’s sports are inherently less interesting than men’s. I believe that those who hold the opinions listed above are genuine when they say they are not speaking from an anti-women’s sport position. Rather, they seem to think the UConn women are an uninteresting team because they have no rivals. There’s no competition, and therefore, they are turning fans off to what has become a “boring” sport.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a major women’s basketball fan. Being able to play in the band and having the opportunity to support the women’s team as I have in the past four years of my college career, I’ve seen my fair share of games featuring great teams, the Huskies being among them. Notre Dame has played UConn a number of times in recent years, and I distinctly remember every game being competitive and full of energy. Those two teams excelled at the sport of basketball, and the drama that ensued on the court in each matchup was compelling and interesting.

It is true that, in the past, parity has proven hard to come by in the women’s game on the collegiate level. UConn’s success is unprecedented, but the alleged issue goes deeper than that. Upsets are rare, and picking chalk seems to be the preferred method of prediction when setting a women’s bracket up for March Madness. However, I would argue that, since UConn began its dominant streak, parity in the women’s game has actually increased significantly. Teams like fourth-seeded Syracuse and seventh-seeded Washington competed with perennial heavyweights like Stanford and Maryland — and won, sometimes handily. Only a single No. 1 seed — UConn — made it to the Final Four in the women’s tournament — a statistic that was mirrored in the men’s bracket. The level of competition in women’s college basketball is rising, but some observers are too short-sighted to look past the success of one of the most dominant sports teams in history to see the development of the sport occurring right in front of their eyes.

I truly do believe that critics of the state of women’s college basketball do not believe that they are speaking from a position of privilege when they suggest that UConn’s success is bad for the sport. That being said, I suspect the words of UConn head coach Geno Auriemma deserve a bit more attention than perhaps they were afforded when first spoken.

“When Tiger [Woods] was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf,” Auriemma said. “Actually, he did a lot for golf. He made everybody have to be a better golfer. We don’t appreciate people for how good they are and what a good job they do; we always have to compare it to something. It’s only in women’s basketball. It’s the only sport where that happens.”

I am by no means a Huskies fan — their dominance has vexed me on a number of occasions. But I would never presume their success to be bad for the sport. Rather, I think it is important that we realize how damaging and retroactive that viewpoint can actually be.

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

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