UConn’s Streak and Title IX

Last night, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team broke the college hoops consecutive win record of 88 games set by UCLA’s men in the early 1970s. In anticipation of this, UConn coach Geno Auriemma caused a bit of a stir by accusing some male sports fans of being upset because a women’s team was threatening a record set by men.

This does not compute. Somewhere there might be a man upset by this – though I haven’t heard one – but I don’t see why: The UCLA men beat men’s teams, the UConn women have beaten women’s teams. It says nothing bad about men that a women’s team has a longer win streak.

Where there might be en element of gender conflict at play is in how UConn got to this point. According to CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel, UConn hasn’t just beaten other teams during its streak, it’s crushed numerous squads that at least by ranking ought to have been competitive with UConn. (It clobbered 22nd-ranked Florida State by 31 points for win number 89.) The talent pool in women’s basketball, Doyel argues, just isn’t deep enough to produce several teams of UConn’s calibre.

Assuming Doyel is correct, why isn’t there the same depth of talent in women’s hoops as has existed in men’s college basketball since at least the end of UCLA’s streak?

Quite possibly, because there aren’t nearly as many women who care about competing in sports, including basketball, at the highest levels as there are men. It’s a very real possibility supported not only by UConn’s dominance, but by what appears to be a strong tendency of other top women’s teams to win games by relatively lopsided margins, and, most tellingly, by significant athletics evidence beyond hoops. All of that, however, flies in the face of the implicit rationale of Title IX, the federal statute requiring colleges to offer equal athletic opportunities to men and women. The law assumes that colleges that fail to offer proportionate roster spots are discriminating against girls, but the reality is that women might just not want to play sports as fervently as men.

UConn’s dominance might be just one more bit of evidence that it is time to stop assuming that there is rampant,  sexist ill will when it comes to college sports, and for government to let people freely choose what interests they pursue. At the very least, it would probably make a lot of people happier than they’d be getting destroyed by the UConn women’s basketball team.