With UConn’s 82–51 victory over Syracuse in the national championship game Tuesday, the Huskies matched the UCLA men’s basketball program’s record for most titles (11) in college basketball history.
Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma also surpassed the legendary John Wooden as the coach with the most national championship wins all-time. But while Wooden is remembered as an all–time great coach after presiding over the UCLA dynasty of the 1960's and 70's, Auriemma has constantly had to defend his team’s success against critics who claim UConn’s dominance is bad for the women’s game.
“I don’t remember anyone saying UCLA was bad for basketball,” AuriemmatoldTheNew York Times in 2010.
Both UCLA and UConn dominated college basketball. But only one team is accused of being detrimental to the growth of the sport. Why?
First, we decided to compare the stats and records of both dynasties.
Comparing Wooden's UCLA and Auriemma's UConn
LONGEST WINNING STREAK
Most Consecutive Titles
Geno Auriemma (UConn)
John Wooden (UCLA)
Critics of UConn's dominance point to the Huskies' typically large margin of victory. But UCLA's margin of victory was also high: Though the Bruins never won 75 consecutive games by double digits, like UConn, UCLA's 30 straight tournament wins from 1967 to 1974 included 24 double–digit wins. And while UConn has won by an average of 16.8 points in national championship games, UCLA won by an average of 13.3 points during its dynasty.
When UCLA won its first championship during the 1963–64 season, the NCAA tournament was just 26 years old and consisted of 25 teams. At this time, only conference champions gained entry into the tournament, meaning strong teams did not have a chance to challenge UCLA down the stretch. For instance, the No. 2 USC Trojans did not play in the 1971 tournament, although their only two losses were to UCLA.
Although UConn did win a title in 1994–95, the Huskies dynasty began in earnest in 1999–2000, the first of four championships in a stretch of five seasons. That year was just the 18th season the women’s title was determined by a tournament, a timeline that mirrors UCLA's.
In early men's college basketball, talent was not spread out as it is in today's game, which partially explains how the Bruins managed to have enough talent to earn an AP preseason No. 1 ranking eight times from 1965 to 1975. From 2006 to 2016, UConn ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll six times and never started the season out of the top 10.
Differing views on dominance
UConn is regularly praised for its remarkable success, but the program has also had to deal with criticism that the lack of parity is bad for women’s basketball.
Just this year, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy declared that UConn is “killing [the] women’s game” after its 98–38 victory over Mississippi State in the Elite Eight.
Shaughnessy was not alone in his criticism, as former Fox Sports and ESPN reporter David Ubben told NPR that UConn’s success has hindered development for the rest of the NCAA.
“UConn's still going to be out in front as long as Geno keeps getting the best players and developing the best players. It's a credit to them, but it's still not helping the women's game,” Ubben said.
While John Wooden wasn't necessarily universally revered during his time, it is hard to find an article from the period or today that claims UCLA’s reign was an obstacle to the growth of men’s basketball.
For example, as Curry Kirkpatrick detailed in his 1970 Sports Illustrated article “UCLA: Simple, Awesomely Simple,” the Bruins helped make college basketball relevant all over the country, not just Los Angeles.
“The UCLA name does not go unappreciated on foreign fronts, of course. Large-scale paydays for the basketball program in recent years included, during the [Lew] Alcindor era, two single-game appearances in Madison Square Garden, four Chicago Stadium dates and a colossal gate at the Astrodome in Houston. Athletic Director J. D. Morgan will not release exact figures, but he estimates that the UCLA basketball program brings in as much revenue as do the football teams at many major schools. In the two years that NBC has held the rights to the NCAA tournament UCLA has collected upward of $90,000.”
Today, of course, John Wooden's UCLA dynasty is held in high esteem. The Wooden Era of college basketball is remembered fondly because of UCLA’s dominance, not in spite of it. And UCLA’s dynasty ultimately gave way to the success of other programs: In the decade after Wooden’s final title in 1975, nine different schools won national championships.
So why does UConn have to deal with so much criticism? The answer could very well be sexism.
As ThinkProgress's Lindsay Gibbs writes, UConn's dominance should only help women's college basketball continue to grow:
Discounting all of women’s basketball just because UConn has been historically dominant over the past few years is lazy, sexist, and just plain ill-advised. It oversimplifies and slights the incredible hard work it takes to achieve UConn’s success, disrespects the great stories and talent elsewhere in the sports, and keeps nuanced conversations about how women’s basketball can keep growing at bay.
Of course this run from UConn will make women’s college basketball better. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of young girls practicing harder because they want to be like Stewie or Moriah when they grow up. A fraction of those girls will grow up and be recruited by colleges all over the nation. Auriemma won’t have roster spots for all of them.
Just like Wooden's run at UCLA, we’ll likely remember this era of women’s college basketball because of UConn’s remarkable dominance. As the sudden end to UCLA's run of championships showed, the Huskies dynasty probably won't last forever. And when the dynasty does end, the game will be stronger because of it.