One of the truly annoying aspects of working in the world of women’s college basketball is understanding how little regard and respect most mainstream sports fans have for it, as if the athletes are somehow substandard and therefore not worthy of praise and/or attention.
This disregard is unmerited, the product of generational bias and misconceived notions about the intent and aspirations of most of the women who play basketball in college.
But there is one notion that I totally agree with. And it’s not something based solely on public opinion, but the fault of institutions that sponsor women’s basketball programs.
Let’s be honest about this: If Pittsburgh men’s coach Jamie Dixon ran a program that was on the verge of going two entire Big East seasons without a conference win, how long would the university stand for it?
There is no nicer coach in women’s basketball than Pitt’s Agnus Berenato. She truly appreciates every word and comment made about women’s basketball and has gone to great lengths to help the sport grow in Pittsburgh since she arrived in 2003.
Pitt was a Sweet 16 team in 2008-09 behind WNBA star Shavonte Zellous, who helped Indiana win the championship last season. It won more than 20 games in four straight seasons. The confidence in the program was so high Pitt extended Agnus’ deal through 2015-16.
But Tuesday’s loss was the 32nd straight in Big East play since March 4, 2011 when the Panthers beat South Florida in the conference tournament. The Panthers haven’t won a regular season game in the Big East since Feb. 15, 2011. That was 34 games ago.
We all know that this would never be tolerated in men’s college basketball – at any level. Look how long Seton Hall waited before they replaced Phyllis Mangina with Anne Donovan.
Until administrators hold their women’s programs to higher standards, they will run the risk of exposing them to ridicule.
And it will be utterly deserved.
On Monday, I asked Geno Auriemma what he thought about this apparent double-standard in how coaches are evaluated by Division I athletic directors and presidents.
“It’s hard for me to say,” Auriemma said. “The fact that there is so much revenue at stake on the men’s side, especially at a BCS school with football, men’s basketball, ice hockey, etc., it makes winning and losing just like life.
“And If you are coaching basketball at a mid-major, there is a lot of pressure to win because that’s all the school basically has [in terms of marketable athletics].
“I just think that in many places, with women’s basketball, it’s not the case yet. Will it be? I think it’s the next progression, but every school is different, every school has its own agenda and way of handling it.
“Look, it’s just hard to win in our league and if you get into a bad cycle it is hard to snap out of it. Look at the men’s side, if you get into the bottom three it’s just hard to climb out.
“But they [administrators] are less patient [with men’s sports] less because it’s too important.”
Only when that day comes to more college campuses will the efforts of their female athletes come into a more positive light.
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