Sometimes you have to really dig to find a decent story.
While Odell Beckham Jr. has been partying in Miami and dropping passes in Green Bay, while Derrick Rose has been jetting off to Chicago and leaving his team in the lurch at Madison Square Garden, the Connecticut women’s basketball team has been on the world’s quietest historic run.
UConn steamrolled No. 20 South Florida, 102-37, Tuesday night to post its 90th consecutive win. The victory against what was considered one of the tougher teams left on its schedule ties the NCAA Division I record for consecutive wins and pretty much guarantees it will set the record Saturday at unranked Southern Methodist.
The record the Huskies tied was their own, because they won 90 straight games from 2008-10 to set a mark for both women’s and men’s basketball. While that run garnered a lot of attention as Connecticut was toppling a 36-year-old record set by a legendary UCLA men’s team, this may be the most under-the-radar streak in the history of sports.
Why is that? Why, when I was flipping the radio back and forth between ESPN and WFAN on a two-hour drive to Connecticut, did I not hear one mention that UConn was going for 90 in a row?
I have my theories.
The nice theory goes like this: No one expected UConn to be doing this. It entered the season ranked No. 3, behind Notre Dame and Baylor. It had lost the core of the team that won four straight national championships. There was no Breanna Stewart, no Morgan Tuck or Moriah Jefferson. It had an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule, and most expected the Huskies to lose one or even two games early. Instead, they ticked off the wins in almost business-like fashion, getting by Florida State and having little problem with Baylor and Notre Dame.
Yet the fact that no one expected the Huskies to be this good can’t fully explain the lack of coverage, which leads us to my not-so-nice theory.
UConn’s streak isn’t as interesting as its last one was because it isn’t breaking a record set by a legendary male sports team, a team a lot of television sports directors and sports editors grew up watching. This is a pure women’s sports story, just another story about another great UConn team.
“It was a male-female thing before, with all the people coming out of the woodwork to complain we weren’t UCLA and I’m not John Wooden,” Geno Auriemma said. “It became this how dare you compare those two. Now people can ignore it because it’s just us trying to beat another UConn team.”
It’s sad that isn’t enough. I counted 27 reporters at Auriemma’s news conference after the record-tying win, approximately the same number who attended Rose’s “I’m sorry I ditched my team” news conference earlier in the afternoon.
“I think it’s really significant when the news media ignores a very significant moment in women’s sports. I think that speaks volumes,” said Cheryl Cooky, a Purdue professor of American Studies and co-author of the report “It’s Dude Time”: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows.
“Like what is the bar which women’s sports has to clear in order to be viewed as worthy of news media coverage in the eyes of editors and sports journalists? Winning the gold cup? Winning a gold medal?”
The report, based on a 25-year study of ESPN SportsCenter and local network affiliate sports coverage, found that coverage of women’s sports has actually dropped over the years. In 1989, 5 percent of all segments focused on women. In 2014, the last year of the study, only 3.2 percent featured women.
“There’s still a conventional wisdom that exists for a lot of media folks that they are giving audiences what they want,’’ Cooky said. “One of the things we argue in our paper is that the media often ignores or downplays the audience-building function of sports media. Color commentary, visual effects, the editing of music, are all used to communicate to viewers that men’s sports matter.”
And women’s sports matter less. As someone who has been complicit in this — someone who has spent the majority of her career choosing to watch and cover men’s sports — it’s a lot to think about.