The talk of college basketball this weekend was no doubt Aaron Harrison and the University of Kentucky. Harrison is just one of a legion of freshmen on the Kentucky team (his identical twin brother is another) that never quite lived up to expectations this season until a couple of weeks ago. Harrison himself has turned it up a notch hitting clutch shots to keep Kentucky in the tournament. On Saturday he did just that with seconds to go to beat Wisconsin and they’ll face UConn tonight in the final. Neither of these teams were expected to make it, but here they are.
But did you know yesterday the women also had their Final Four? Notre Dame beat Maryland and UConn beat Stanford. UConn and Notre Dame face off for the championship Tuesday. But you probably won’t watch it. Last year’s tournament final was watched by 4.3 million people, and that was high for the women’s game. The men? 23 million. I love basketball myself but even I was barely aware of the women’s games this weekend. I watched them briefly but quickly changed the channel.
This begs the question: Why do we not watch women’s basketball? This is something the NCAA has been looking into. Suggestions have been raised to improve interest. Ideas range from changing venues of games to attract a growing European crowd to lowering the goal. I’m not sure what if, if anything, would work, but do think I can articulate why we aren’t as interested in women’s basketball. And UConn can illustrate.
The simple fact of the matter is we don’t watch the games because no one else does. We watch our football teams so we can talk with our dads or coworkers or friends about it. But we also want to watch games that are competitive. Both the UConn men and women are in the NCAA final this year, but how they go there is very different. The UConn men were a 7 seed which means based on that seeding they weren’t really expected to win even their second game. To get to the final they had to beat the 2 seed, 3 seed, and 4 seed. Their largest margin of victory was 12 over Villanova.
Now look at the UConn women. They were a 1 seed. Their closest win (by 15 points) was three higher than the UConn men’s best win. In fact, the UConn women blow out pretty much everyone they play. There’s not a single game this season that one could call a “close game”. They somewhat regularly scored twice as many points as their opponents. The UConn men on the other hand lost eight games in the regular season. And by the way, the UConn women won it all last year (won the championship game by 33 points). The men didn’t even make the tournament.
Sports fans probably won’t admit this, but they need their teams to lose. They need close games, tough losses, and some drama. When was the last time an NFL team went undefeated? 1972 Dolphins. Men’s college basketball? Indiana, 1976. Women’s college basketball? Baylor 2012 (and UConn in 2010, 2009, and 2002). UConn and Notre Dame are both undefeated so 2014 will have another team on the list.
As I said before, I’m not sure how to fix this. But we aren’t watching women’s basketball because it lacks the drama of more competitive sports. And also because no one else is watching. There are surely other reasons. But if I’m channel surfing and see a game on with teams I’m not overly passionate about, I’m not going to keep watching of there’s a 30 point difference between the teams.