For the last week or so I have been in Illinois with my wife, son and in-laws, visiting my wife’s extended family. We had a lovely trip to the Chicago area and then continued on to central IL.
While we were away, one of the more prominent news stories was the UConn women’s basketball team’s winning streak, which they extended to 88 games on and then 89 games on Tuesday night. With the 89th consecutive victory–11 wins this season following back-to-back 39-0 national championship seasons–the Lady Huskies passed the mark of 88 consecutive wins by the UCLA men’s basketball team between 1971-74.
Now, praise should be given where praise is due. These young women are exemplary on and off the court, and they are better athletes than I will ever be–they would kick my butt at hoops any day of the week, and they could probably beat me up, too. With that in mind, it’s a bit risky to voice this opinion–but that’s what blogs are for, right?
This is certainly a remarkable and laudable achievement. But my question is, why is this achievement being compared to the UCLA men’s record? Watching ESPN this week I became more and more disgusted by the cowardice displayed by the analysts: no one would point out that these two records cannot really be compared–for fear of being labeled sexist.
Hear me out, here. No one disputes that the UConn women are the best women’s college team out there, by far. But when we talk about breaking records, it’s important to compare apples to apples.
If an eighth-grade team somewhere in the nation won 100 games in a row, what would we say about it? We would say, “What a great achievement for them,” but we wouldn’t compare it to a similar achievement in the NBA. The NBA record for consecutive wins, BTW, is 33, set by the Lakers in ’71-72. The non-NCAA record for consecutive wins by a women’s team is 131 wins by Wayland Baptist University of Plainview, TX (1953-58), but no one argues that those girls could beat these UConn women. The UCLA men’s teams of the early ’70s might have had a shot on any given night at beating those Lakers.
But it’s a guarantee that the UCLA men would have beaten today’s UConn women in a head-to-head matchup. The Bruins had two 6’11” players, including future NBA Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton. The Lady Huskies’ tallest player is Stephanie Dolson at 6’5″, and the average height on the team is 5’11”. The opponents that these teams had to face were of similar size, skill and athletic ability–that’s the whole idea in competitive sports.
I think it’s unfair to both teams–the Bruin men and the Lady Huskies–to compare their records. To do so would short-change the men’s achievement while undermining the credibility of the women’s achievement. What are we trying to convince ourselves by comparing the two teams? That women are better or more athletic than men?
Let’s just acknowledge that women and men have different physical endowments. If sports (even the farce that is college athletics–but that’s a discussion for another time) is about teamwork, dedication, patience, perseverance and physical fitness, let’s applaud those traits–and not let politics and culture wars overshadow what these women have achieved.