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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Don’t blame UConn’s dominance for consumer apathy about women’s college basketball

Connecticut's Gabby Williams, left, and Kia Nurse, center,

Connecticut's Gabby Williams, left, and Kia Nurse, center, hold the regional championship trophy as head coach Geno Auriemma, right, speaks after a regional final against South Carolina at the women's NCAA college basketball tournament Monday, March 26, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. Credit: AP / Frank Franklin II

ALBANY - When was the last time you filled out a bracket for the women’s NCAA Tournament?

This is something a friend of mine asked me last week when I started complaining about all the people complaining about the dominance of the Connecticut women’s basketball team.

The way my friend and a lot of other people see it, UConn has ruined the women’s game by being so good. They guess that the reason co-workers are not obsessing over tournament story lines is because the Huskies are so dominant that it wouldn’t be worth filling out a bracket.

Of course, we all know the real reason that most of America never has filled out a bracket for the women’s tournament, and it has very little to do with the fact that Connecticut has lost only twice in the past five years. Or the fact that UConn is headed to its 11th consecutive Final Four this week after destroying South Carolina, 94-65, in the Albany Regional final at the Times Union Center on Monday night. Or the fact that it wasn’t much of a game, or that the Huskies, led by Gabby Williams’ 23 points, had the defending national champions looking bewildered from the start and led 30-12 after a quarter.

The real reason we don’t fill out a women’s bracket is because no one invites us. We aren’t getting four or five emails from co-workers and relatives about joining their women’s pool. There are few opportunities to play and little information on the teams.

Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor at Purdue University, is part of a research team that has studied coverage of men’s and women’s sports on TV. According to their most recent study, published in 2015, for every 3½ hours of men’s college basketball highlights shown on television, women’s college basketball was on for nine minutes. That coverage included tournament time, which is key for drawing in the casual fan.

But how many people picking brackets outside of Chicago ever had watched Loyola men’s basketball or had a clue who Sister Jean was three weeks ago?

“A lot of people who follow the [men’s tournament] don’t actually watch a lot of the season’s games, and even if you do, you’re not able to watch all the seasons of all 64 teams,” Cooky said in a Purdue University news release. “[For the men’s game], sport media help us get information, statistics and predictions; there are apps on your smartphone you can use that will predict who is going to win over whom. There’s so much of that on the side of men’s, and the women’s is a struggle to find any information.’’

Of course, there’s more information out there than there was before, and those who do seek it don’t seem to be too bothered by Connecticut’s dominance.

“UConn is the standard in women’s college basketball and has been for the last decade,” ESPN analyst Kara Lawson said Monday night. “This run is remarkable — the number of undefeated seasons [and] they’re going for their 11th straight Final Four tonight. It’s been a run unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the history of the sport.”

There really is no empirical evidence that UConn has destroyed the game. There is plenty, however, that it has raised the quality of the sport. The level of talent coming into the WNBA is higher than ever.

I’ve never understood the line of reasoning that UConn and coach Geno Auriemma are bad for the sport. Were Michael Jordan and the Bulls bad for the NBA? Did the Patriots ruin the NFL? Did Serena Williams destroy the game of tennis?

Last time I checked, this is a country that loves big-time winners, so I really don’t think the Huskies can be blamed for lack of interest in the women’s game. What can be blamed is the lethargy of people like me who enjoy the game but don’t seek out others who do.

No, I didn’t fill out a women’s bracket this year, but I should have, and I should have invited my son and daughter to do the same. Check back next year.

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