Those who question Connecticut’s dominance in women’s basketball say it’s not good for the game because it shows a lack of parity. There is only one answer for that: Other athletic programs should aspire to give a similar commitment to women’s basketball as the Huskies have since Geno Auriemma became head coach in 1985.
Why can’t other athletic directors and coaches duplicate the success UConn has experienced?
Auriemma has coached them to 101 straight victories dating to 2014 as of Feb. 19. The Huskies have won four consecutive national titles. It was thought this would be a rebuilding season because three of the top players from last year’s team were drafted into the WNBA in the first, second and third rounds. At least a couple of losses were expected, but Connecticut finds itself at 26-0 overall and primed for yet another title run in March Madness.
Maryland and Mississippi State only have one loss as of Feb. 19 and Florida State, Baylor and South Carolina only have two. Those programs are competitive but most are viewed as well behind the race to the finish line. Maryland, under successful coach Brenda Frese, has established consistency, as well as Baylor and South Carolina to a degree. Mississippi State has steadily improved under Vic Schaefer.
What is the magic formula these programs are trying to follow to get to Connecticut’s level?
Athletic departments first have to place an emphasis on women’s basketball. Sounds simple enough but with most programs having sparse attendance, the general thought might be to just get by because most of these programs are not money makers like UConn.
A problem that goes with that for many programs: Lack of booster support, which is not the case with traditional powers such as Connecticut and Tennessee. Are fund-raising campaigns toward women’s basketball fervent enough or do athletic programs give in to the belief that it might be a waste of time because of the lack of revenue the sport generates?
A study four years ago in the SEC, for example, showed that Tennessee donors contributed $2.07 million to the Volunteers’ women’s program while none of the boosters contributed to the cause at Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina.
The Gamecocks, under legendary player Dawn Staley, have turned their fortunes arounds thanks to the school’s aggressive “Drive for 5” campaign that launched in 2013-14. The program made it a goal to sell at least 5,000 season tickets a year inspired by coach Dawn Staley’s jersey number. South Carolina’s attendance has grown steadily in recent years. The number grew from 2012-13’s average of 3,952 to 6,371 in the “Drive for 5’s” first season. The Gamecocks led the nation in attendance increase. The program repeated the feat in 2014-15 as the average nearly doubled again to 12,293 for a 5,922 increase, which was more than double the increase of the next team on the list. In 2015-16, Gamecock fans again rose to the challenge to keep the program atop the national average.
Of course, winning plays a part in the increased attendance totals, but the impetus to get such a campaign going falls on the administrators.
The dominance of a program such as Connecticut might be viewed as a detriment to the parity of women’s college basketball. Instead of succumbing to that thought, a majority of athletic departments should study the Huskies’ program and come to the determination an effort is necessary to make up for that gap.
Javier Morales has worked as a sports journalist for more than 25 years. He reported for The Arizona Daily Star for 13 years. He was the Star’s beat reporter for the Arizona men’s basketball program when the Wildcats won the national title in 1996-97. A 2010 Arizona Press Club award winner, Morales operates the blog site AllSportsTucson.com.