Friday, March 18, 2011

It's March Madness Time Alright **UPDATED**

I suppose that can be taken a number of different ways considering all that is going on in the world with Japan fighting desperately to deal with aftereffects of the massive earthquake(s) and tsunami there*, Libya bombing its own people, gasoline prices skyrocketing which makes food prices skyrocket, and on and on... But for the moment, I am talking about basketball.

Yes, it is all anyone can talk about these days. While in Tampa to take in some Yankees' Spring Training games, the number of men wearing NCAA t-shirts is telling. Heck, even President Obama, with all the major issues going on in the world today was not too busy to pick his NCAA brackets and play some golf, or diss his Secretary of State for being hardworking while he plays around at parties and dinners. Oh, it is March Madness alright.

But, as Christine Brennan of USA Today highlights, they aren't the only ones, Psst, Women Have Hoops Tourney, Too. Oh, huh - yeah, I guess they do.

Brennan nails it when she writes:
If you had a dollar for every time someone has referred to "the tournament" this week, you'd be a millionaire.

It's all people can talk about in sports: the tournament. Catch the national news on radio or TV. Check out any number of sports websites. Listen to your local sportscaster. Listen to yourself. The language is the same: it's the tournament, singular, as if there's only one.

But there's a rumor going around that there is in fact another college basketball tournament taking place at the same time. Perhaps you've heard this rumor? That women's basketball players are competing for a national title too? When people hear about this and want to check it out, they end up having a difficult time proving it in the mainstream news media, especially radio and TV, so they often end up wondering if they just dreamed it.

This is the fate of "the other tournament," the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, which runs concurrently with the men's, forever to be known as "the tournament."

And I do mean forever. No matter how much better and more interesting the women's game has become, its tournament will always be seen as an add-on. And it's not just because the men started theirs in 1939 and the women in 1982. Ironically, the stronger the women's tournament gets, the more the men's tournament leaves it in the dust. It's illogical, but true. While the women's tournament is all about sports, the men's is about so much more. It has become a way of life, a part of our culture. How can the women compete with that? [snip]

Good question. How indeed, when the men have 55 years on the women with this top basketball tournament? Brennan addresses that, too:
[snip]There is a school of thought that says the women are getting far more than they used to in terms of coverage and interest, and that they should be happy with that. We'll call this the "table scraps" theory.

Then there's the 21st-century concept of actually trying to give women's sports every opportunity to shine in their own right. This school of thought says that the current system, running the two tournaments at the same time, is failing because the men's tournament simply blocks out too much of the sun.

In less than three weeks, the NCAA could be hosting the greatest women's Final Four in history. If top seeds Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford and Baylor all make it to Indianapolis, it could be a terrific Sunday of college basketball: UConn would play Tennessee, renewing the high-wire rivalry between Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt; and Stanford, the team that ended UConn's historic NCAA winning streak in December, would play Baylor, led by towering, 6-8 center Brittney Griner.

You gotta admit, that does sound pretty exciting (though I have no love lost for Pat Summit, sorry all of my Tennessee friends!). And for those who do not know, U-Conn had a record streak going of 90 wins until Stanford broke it the end of December. You can see how there could be some major fireworks if the Final Four ends up as Brennan thinks it might. Holy moley, that would be some good basketball, wouldn't it? Brennan thinks so, too:
This glorious prospect has to be one of the best-kept secrets in sports. To be sure, national outlets that take their responsibility to cover all sports seriously are busy telling the story of the women's game.

But do the vast majority of people putting the finishing touches on their bracket (that would be singular) have any clue about this possibility? Of course not. They are too busy worrying about their pick in Thursday's Cincinnati-Missouri men's matchup.


People will come up with excuses forever, but this year shows us as well as any that it's time for the NCAA to give the women a place of their own on the sports calendar.

Today, there is more talent, skill and athleticism in women's college basketball than at any other time in the history of the game. To do nothing is to guarantee that these fine athletes who are so deserving of widespread national attention will never get it. (Click here to read the rest.)

Indeed, these women work just as hard as their male counterparts, play a great game of hoops, and deserve more attention than they are getting. If the Final Four shapes up as predicted, it will be one helluva end to this tournament. It isn't just men playing basketball on a national scale any more, and it is far past time for that to sink into the public consciousness. If nothing else, watching the women play is a great way to wind up Women's History Month, don't you think?

* One more thing about Japan. Unfortunately for the Japanese, people take their stoicism, calm, civility, and community spirit as evidence that they do not need help on the same level as other countries hit by natural occurrences of this magnitude. Add to that the perception that Japan, as a first level industrialized nation, has it altogether so it doesn't need as much help. That spells Japan receiving just $49 million in donations the first week after the earthquake, aftershocks, and tsunami hit. Compare that to Haiti, which received $296 million, and those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami at $250 million. The issues they face with the nuclear reactors, as well as whole areas wiped out from the tsunami, are massive on a huge scale. Yes, they are an industrialized nation, but they are our allies, and they are people in need. If you are able, and so inclined, they can use your help. Charity Navigator lists and ranks organizations doing relief work in Japan. Or if you have a favorite, like the Red Cross, you can designate funds for Japan there as well.

**UPDATED** - Sandra Bullock has donated $1 million to Japan's relief effort. She continues to impress with her generosity and compassion.

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