Official disclaimer: I am not a fan of women’s college basketball. By that, I hardly mean that despise the sport. What I mean is that if women’s college basketball were wiped from the face of the earth tomorrow, I’m not sure that I would notice.
As a member of the sports media, however, I know precisely who Geno Auriemma is, though I have never met him. He is head coach of the Connecticut women’s basketball team, probably the most dominant team in college sports today. And I can tell you with equal certainty that I abhor Auriemma’s self-aggrandizing act, whether he’s comparing the UConn women to the UCLA men or himself to John Wooden, however circumspectly.
Before anyone accuses me of being a sexist or anything even remotely close, let me make clear that today’s diatribe is built around one question and one question only:
Why has Geno Auriemma never taken on the challenge of coaching a men’s program?
At this stage, we all know that UConn’s dominance in women’s basketball is beyond absurd. Prior to Monday’s meeting with Texas, I went through UConn’s results this season: the Huskies beat four opponents by 60 or more points, 10 opponents by 50 or more. Their average margin of victory was 42.5 points. Not a single opponent came within single digits. The gap between UConn and everybody else is so great that there really isn’t even a point in having an NCAA women’s tournament. The Huskies have won the last three NCAA championships and five of the last seven.
Their records during those seasons: 39-0, 39-0, 36-2, 33-5, 35-4, 40-0, 38-1, 36-0. Add them up. That’s 296-12 overall.
Hasn’t that been fun?
Let’s make something clear here: as much as we say sports are about winning, they’re not. They’re about challenges. They’re about adversity. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was taught that once you master something, move on to the next challenge. Guys like Derek Jeter didn’t rip up Triple-A over and over again, then turn down invitations to play in the big leagues because, well, they were content to beat up on the guys in the minors.
So why has Geno stayed in the women’s game? Why hasn’t he jumped to a men’s program and really challenged the establishment? To win in both women’s and men’s basketball would surely establish Auriemma as one of the great basketball minds of our time.
And lest there be any doubt, let’s make something else clear: Geno can coach. But the precise level of his greatness is unclear. I’d say the same thing about Kentucky’s John Calipari, who routinely gets the best players and, more often than not, fails to meet expectations. Rick Pitino fell on his face in the NBA — as did Calipari — but at least he tried.
Nick Saban tried to make it in the NFL before building a powerhouse at Alabama. Now many of us wonder how Saban could possibly feel satiated winning national titles he’s supposed to win. He has the best talent, just like Geno.
Truth be told, Auriemma is currently a huge asset for women’s college basketball. Without him ranting and raving about the inequities between men’s and women’s game, we’d never talk about women’s college basketball at all. Geno makes noise, after all, and America loves noise. The country was founded on it. And so every March, as surely as spring arrives, Geno kicks up a storm. And we start talking about women’s college hoops — at least for five minutes.
For example: Auriemma’s comments last year included the following about the men’s game.
“I think the game is a joke,” he said. “It really is. I don’t coach it. I don’t play it, so I don’t understand all the ins and outs of it. But as a spectator, forget that I’m a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it’s a joke. There’s only like 10 teams, you know, out of 25, that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you’d like to watch. Every coach will tell you that there’s 90 million reasons for it.”
Well then. Okay. Have you considered coaching it yourself? Fixing it? Or are you afraid that you might actually, you know, fail?
Again, do not misunderstand. This isn’t about mocking the women’s game. In his arena, Auriemma is Julius Caesar. But after a while, a bully presumably gets tired of beating up the same 99-pound weakling over and over. If he doesn’t, well, you know what that makes him?
And nothing more.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.