SAN ANTONIO — Don’t you feel silly now, NCAA.
March Madness began with the uproar over the NCAA’s blatant disregard of women’s basketball, Mark Emmert and his cronies apparently believing it to be an extracurricular activity rather than an actual sport. It is finishing with the women’s tournament showing itself to be superior to the men’s event for competitiveness, quality of play and pure watchability.
Since the mayhem of the first- and second rounds, the most compelling games have occurred in the women’s tournament. The Baylor-Michigan finish. The Baylor-UConn finish. Indiana’s takedown of N.C. State. South Carolina’s defensive clinic against Texas. Stanford coming back from the dead against Louisville.
And, even before the games are played, I’m going to predict that the men’s Final Four won’t be as captivating as the women’s was Friday night. There’s no way it could be after Aari McDonald and Arizona did their best Arya Stark impressions against UConn, and Haley Jones’ “Oh my God!” shot – her whole performance, really – that lifted Stanford into the title game.
The Cardinal and Arizona play for the title Sunday night (6 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“The fact so many of these games have been really close, and good games in general, is really big for the women’s game as a whole,” Stanford’s Ashten Prechtel said Saturday. “I think it really shows the disparities are not necessary, and the women’s game deserves the same respect as the men’s game.”
Aari McDonald is on 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥#ncaaW
While the keyboard warriors who hide their own insecurity behind misogynistic insults will take any opportunity to trash the women’s game, it has always been the ignorant or oblivious decision-makers, often men, who have done the most damage.
Emmert either didn’t realize or didn’t care that the women’s tournament was still being treated as a sideshow, so neither did the people below him. Television executives parked games on remote channels, never considering there would be a mainstream audience for them. Marketing executives failed to see that a Sue Bird or a Megan Rapinoe could sell jerseys and products, too.
Which is why the way this tournament has played out has been so important.
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The women were furious, though not surprised, by the disparities. But after their initial anger and demands for change, they let their game speak for them. And, as anyone who has actually paid attention to women’s basketball before last month could have predicted, it has not disappointed.
“When we were making it look so easy, I tried to tell people this is really hard, and nobody believed me,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Friday night. “And they're not getting any easier.”
While Gonzaga and Baylor have rolled through the men’s tournament as expected, a meeting in Monday night’s title game seeming almost inevitable, the women’s tournament has been raucous and unpredictable. The days of being able to pencil in UConn, or Tennessee before that, as the national champion are over. For a fourth consecutive tournament, there will be a new national champion. Over that time, nine different teams have made the Final Four.
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