Before the UCONN women's basketball team won its record 89th consecutive game on Tuesday night, surpassing the record of the great John Wooden coached UCLA teams from some four decades ago, coach Geno Auriemma suggested that his team would be slighted in the media coverage because the record was accomplished by women not men.
"Let's give them two paragraphs in USA Today," Auriemma said." Give them two lines in the bottom of ESPN, and let's send them back where they belong, in the kitchen."
I'm going to give Auriemma the benefit of the doubt and say he didn't mean what he said. Not the kitchen part. But to suggest that the women deserve equal coverage.
The feat is amazing and the streak should be celebrated, but it's hard for me for believe that a guy who has been coaching women's basketball for as long as he has doesn't already know that bias has no place in the sports business.
The UCONN women got more than two lines on ESPN and on ESPN.com, but I know Auriemma knows better than to play the gender card. He acts as if we've decided that each UCONN women's game was only worth half of a UCLA men's game. T
he fact that not as many people might care about the record because of the place that the women's game has in this country has nothing to do with the fact that some of his players have ponytails, it's because more people like the game played by the men. And that's never going to change.
The reason why a second tier bowl game was on ESPN and the Huskies were on ESPN2 on Tuesday is not because the women didn't deserve to be on the mothership, it's because more people were going to watch Louisville and Southern Miss in the Beef O' Brady's Bowl. And they did—twice as many people watched the bowl game.
The NFL doesn't have billions of dollars in television deals because their players are strong men. It's because more people watch and the advertising is worth more, so the networks pay more in upfront rights fees.
The reason why Auriemma's women's teams play their NCAA Tournament games based on when the men aren't is because sports execs know they'd get buried by the men's version of March Madness, not because women are subservient to men.
And Auriemma should know that he shouldn't be comparing the men's and women's game. The sport of basketball is the same. But the women's game is an entirely different game from the men's. And there's virtually no crossover.
Those who appreciate a good game of men's basketball don't necessarily like the women's game and vice versa. In most places around the country, if presented with a men's and women's basketball game in a back-to-back doubleheader in the same arena, the crowd would completely change. The divide isn't as great in tennis, where fans sitting in the crowd at the U.S. Open often don't flinch during a changeover from a men's to a women's match.
Auriemma suggested that the media should cover the women like they do the men and that just doesn't make any business sense.
Sometimes the media overdoes the coverage on a particular topic or person (Favre), but these days, with the endless space on the Internet and plenty of channels, the public is rarely asking for more.
What the UCONN women have accomplished is indeed great, but the numbers and the business tell us that the women won't get the same ink as the men because not as many people want to read about it.
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