What we're missing
They've won 10 straight games and are fifth in the nation with a 15-2 record. They play basketball with a fluid grace and are coached by someone considered a "legend." And yet I'll wager you have no idea what I'm writing about.
They are the Rutgers Scarlet Knights women's basketball team, coached by
Even casual sports fans should be paying attention to the Scarlet Knights. They have returned with remarkable focus following the media circus and even death threats that accompanied the harsh spotlight of last spring. Compare the absence of attention they have received to Virginia Tech's football squad, which was lionized for having a strong season in the aftermath of last spring's campus massacre (please, I am not comparing the massacre at Virginia Tech with Imus. I'm only saying that it gave their year an extra varnish of attention.) The anonymity of the Scarlet Knights' season speaks to a crisis in women's basketball, and it's vexingly tenuous place in the sports world.
This should not be the case. Unlike the stock market, the trends for women's hoops have been pointing skyward for years. Title IX has created a talent pool where more young girls play at an ever-earlier age, with instruction -- and competition -- that gets more serious by the year.
In 2003, the NCAA released a study by
The conventional wisdom in much of the mainstream press was that the women's game was posed to challenge the popularity and appeal of the men's game on many campuses. The men's game was ailing as high school players like
The nadir was in 2006 when the two best players in the college game were
And yet in 2008, only a diehard fan would dare say women's college basketball is a major player in sports. The spotlight on the game feels remarkably dim.
The number one reason, most logically, is the dramatic reassertion of the men's college game with NBA draft rules ending the high school-to-pros dynamic. While it seems unfair, as
But the resurrection of the men, doesn't sufficiently answer why the women's game lacks heat. The answer lies in the coverage, and the priorities of the sports media. Despite the exponential rise in players and participants, the sports media is still stubbornly male. While Imus at least took time to denigrate the Rutgers women, most sports radio folks barely mentioned their Cinderella ascent to the Final Four. In other words, silence, not derision, is the number one obstacle women's sports face. The maddening part about it is that women's hoop nation has proven that it has an audience and a viable market. It shouldn't take a "Don Imus moment" to introduce the country to Vivian Stringer. A great team -- and a great story -- should be enough.