Is a Lack of Competition Hurting Women’s College Basketball?
With only four different teams having won a national title in the last nine years, competitiveness in women’s college basketball may be dissipating.
Updated: Jan. 31, 2018 • 7:45 PM ET
The UConn Huskies have been the standard in women's college basketball.
I’m a typical college basketball fan. I have my team that I root for, and I tend to enjoy watching some of the better teams in the country play head-to-head. It isn’t difficult to tune in when there’s a possible upset in the works, also.
Yet, a lack of competition in women’s college basketball isn’t a new subject of discussion. In fact, the topic has been discussed for years. The NCAA seems to be promoting women’s basketball more now than ever, while some of college basketball’s more well-known male athletes promote their female counterparts, as well.
Over time, people on both sides of the competitiveness discussion have been quick to dismiss opposing arguments. There are those who claim that a lack of viewership is due to misogyny, while others say that women’s basketball lacks the same talent and excitement as the men’s game.
If the argument is that we should just watch it anyways, that’s a terrible argument. People need an incentive to want to watch something, especially when you expect them to also pay for it. Many of those that come to the defense of women’s basketball try to dismiss some of the more valid criticism the sport receives.
For comparison, just look at the rise of women’s soccer in the United States. In fact, the 2015 Women’s World Cup championship match was the most watched soccer games in U.S. history at the time. And on top of that, the 2015 Women’s World Cup set a record with over 750 million viewers, according to FIFA.com.
So what is women’s soccer doing right that women’s basketball is failing to do?
One of the main reasons for the rise in popularity in women’s soccer is the strength of competition. Who remembers the 2012 Olympic semifinal between the United States and Canada, when Alex Morgan scored on a header in the 123rd minute to send the U.S. to the final for a chance at revenge against a Japanese squad that upset them only months prior in the World Cup? That game is one of the best in the history of U.S. soccer, and the implications of what it meant were even bigger.
Conversely, there’s an enormous lack of competitiveness in women’s college basketball. And at the height of the controversy stands the UConn Huskies, which have won 11 of the national titles since the national tournament began in 1982.
Many Huskies defenders argue that they are like any other dynasty, and that if you want them to go away, you’re going to have to beat them — This is a fair point. Just like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have established their dynasty for nearly two decades with the NFL’s New England Patriots (headed to their 8th Super Bowl), if other NFL teams want to be the best, they have to topple the best.
But it’s not solely UConn that’s the problem, even though they’re the ones cited most. The problem is the disparity between competitors throughout the sport. The gap between the top-tier ranked teams and those unranked is so large, it contributes to a lack of excitement. The top teams always seem to dominate.
If it’s not UConn taking the title, it’ll be one of the other teams that dominated all season long cutting down the final nets. And every now and then, you’ll get a sprinkle of a small-time team making a big push, but that’s rare.
What women’s basketball lacks compared to their male counterparts are the dark horse teams that surprise everyone deep into the tournament. Where are the Villanovas, Butlers, Gonzagas and Wichita States of women’s basketball? Where are the teams like last year’s 11th-seeded Xavier on the men’s side that went out and absolutely crushed No. 3 seed Florida State and upset No. 2 Arizona in the NCAA Tournament?
In men’s basketball, we’re guaranteed to see plentiful upsets during March Madness, while a lack of upsets and truly competitive games are holding the women’s game back. Since they play during the same time of the year as the men, it’s difficult enough that the women have to compete with the men for viewership.
Most of the talent in women’s college basketball is consolidated into a handful of top-notch programs, and the difference in talent level and skill is still so far from their male counterparts. Ask your typical basketball fan if they would rather watch a competitive men’s game, where an upset is far more plausible, or a women’s game, where it’s almost certain that the higher ranked team will bulldoze their opponent.
If the women want more viewership, games have to be more exciting. Most fans relish watching games that go down to the wire, not domination. Until women’s college basketball finds a way to even out the scale of talent across the country, there won’t be much incentive for people to want to watch.