In the March of 2002, there was a photograph of Sue Bird hopping into Diana Tarausi’s arms on the cover of New York Times when the UConn Huskies, considered then to be the best women’s team ever assembled, capped off their perfect season, 39-0. I was in high school then, but I still remember that picture. It was iconic. That team played with a poise and style that epitomized the type of game women were capable of playing, and the success, the attention, that was finally given to our sport.
It turned out, though, that ratings for women’s collegiate basketball flattened out after that year. Attendances fell. Coaches and critics — mainly composed of men, of course — entertained talks of changing the dates of the tournament to grow the sport; even of lowering the rim. “The women’s tournament has continued to get great buzz, but the real challenge is how fast it can develop,” said Robert Boland, who is the Professor and Academic Chair of the sports management program at NYU’s Tisch Center. “The men’s tournament was being won through the ’70s by UCLA, but it kept growing and growing and exploded with the Magic-Bird game. The historical parallel is sort of where the women’s game is now.”
But, of course, our sport still has the UConn Huskies and Notre Dame. It’s still got people like Geno Auriemma, like Muffet McGraw. The championship game between the Huskies (39-0) and the Fighting Irish (37-0) has gained more attention than any other finals in the past decade, with both teams chasing their perfect seasons for the first time in NCAA basketball history.
There’s not a lot of parity in women’s college basketball — yet — but there’s always history to be made. Tune in tonight!