The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, March 20, 2019
NCAA Tournament labels — Kathy Delaney-Smith interview — Must-click women's basketball links
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What’s in a name?
There’s a useful shorthand for the way women’s basketball is viewed, particularly by those outside the game, and it comes courtesy of the NCAA.
The Women’s NCAA Tournament, you may have noticed, is branded as such. The Women’s Final Four, same thing.
See if you can spot what’s missing in the men’s counterpart:
Yep, you got it — it’s the Final Four. Not the men’s Final Four. The default. The one everyone cares about, first in our hearts, THE ONE THAT MATTERS.
It seems like a small thing at some level, for sure. I know this because every time I mention it, how problematic it is that an organization that is supposed to operate within the requirements of Title IX treats the two tournaments as unequal, I get pushback from those who tell me what a small thing this is, and aggressively. (Yes, it’s always been a man who does so, and no, I can’t answer for many people in my gender. I wish we, as half the species, could do better.)
The argument for changing it comes down to: it’s more accurate, and women throughout the sport notice it and are rightly angered by it, so let’s make the tiniest, easiest, cost-free change here.
The argument against it appears to be: it’s always been done this way, and relax, it’s fine, gee you’re uptight today.
I don’t think I’m breaking any news when I tell you I’m in the former camp.
There’s a third group, though, and these are the people we need to reach. I’ve had these convos, and will continue to have them. They are people who just never thought about it, who respect and value women’s basketball, and are all too happy to make this tiny change.
Tiny, but the effect is significant. While it often feels overwhelming to address the massive gap between how men’s and women’s sports are viewed, it cannot be fixed by one choice, some light switch. It happens by doing the small things, changing incrementally, all of us pushing forward on innumerable fronts, fixing this over the long-term.
So let’s change the nomenclature, a declaration that at the very least, the very names of the two tournaments will reflect the larger goal, which is equality of opportunity, investment, funding and media coverage. Let’s start with the name and go from there.
This Week in Women’s Basketball
Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Attention = More Coverage of women’s sports! Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Good deep dive by Natalie Heavren on Jen Rizzotti here.
Natalie Weiner on the best moments from Championship Week.
I spent some time in New Haven this weekend, and so did Jonathan Tannenwald. Read his interview with the Ivy League president on the postseason tournament.
Here’s why I was there: Princeton’s Bella Alarie.
I love how James Wade is setting expectations in Chicago. He’s not wrong!
Barbara Barker is a treasure, as is this historical look at a great Long Island legend.
Lindsay Gibbs gets responses from women’s basketball figures on SNL’s WNBA skit.
Lachy France delivers the latest evidence that Australia’s pipeline is more robust than ever.
Jenn Hatfield has your statistical women’s NCAA Tournament preview.
Loved this Mechelle Voepel profile of Teaira McCowan.
Blake DuDonis talked to Bucknell’s Aaron Roussell.
The group at High Post Hoops each picked one player who is must-watch in the NCAA field.
And Kim Doss has you covered on the WNIT side.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith
(I’d finished my Bella Alarie piece. I stuck around just to speak to a true legend of the game. Here are the highlights from her presser.)
REPORTER: Are there three elite teams in the Ivy League this year?
KATHY DELANEY-SMITH: I agree with you and I think probably we all may have predicted the race would be between Penn, Harvard and Princeton and if you look at all of the games, well our games with Princeton were all won in the last minute or two, both games. Anyone could have won it. Then the overtime games we had with them so that does speak to there’s a little luck involved. I mean I would never take anything away from either Princeton or Penn I think they’re great teams, but I think that we’re very close. We’re very different yet we’re very close in who has the ability to win. So I think this is going to be a very exciting tournament.
I wouldn’t even rule out Cornell to be honest with you. I just think Dayna is a great coach, I’ve always felt, you know people always describe coaches as program coaches or game coaches or whatever their strength is. Dayna is one of the best at game adjustments and she gets her kids to play at a level that I would say many of us are unable to do when you lack the height or the talent or the recruiting ability that we have. So I think it’s terrific that Cornell is here and I wouldn’t rule them out.
REPORTER: Your team received a visit from Abby Wambach and I think her sister played for you and you might have recruited Abby. So if you could just talk about how that came together and what that conversation was like.
KATHY DELANEY-SMITH: I coached Abby’s older sister, Beth Wambach, who is now a surgeon and a mother of six children. So when Beth played for me she was an outstanding player and Abby was about a fourth or fifth grade rugrat running around in our gym shooting half shots and so I tried to illegally recruit her as a sixth grader and then ended up in this fantasy that, she’d come play for me and Harvard and then she plays and chose soccer. Now what a ridiculous decision that was.
So she and her wife were up showing their son, Chase, Harvard and so she just gave me a heads up that she was going to be there and I said, “Would you ever come and talk with my team?” And she’s like yes, and I said I’m not paying you your $50,000 fee and so she came in and, wow was she good. She’s just terrific. She’s very special and I know her and her wife they’ve written books, and Abby’s book’s coming out, buy it, on leadership and she’s a special woman. It was a treat to have her and she was very motivational.
REPORTER: Kathy, you recently celebrated a milestone, 600 wins, and now that’s kind of a cool opportunity to look back and see where the league is now relative to when you started. Can you just speak to how things have changed and the strength of the league now relative to then?
KATHY DELANEY-SMITH: Yeah, it’s apples and oranges. Like it would take me an hour to go through all that has changed. But everything, even Robin in the Ivy office and all that you guys do from marketing to everything you do weekly, it’s just, it’s wonderful now and I would say when I started it was less than wonderful. Not to throw anyone under the bus, but it’s terrific and I think there’s more athletes for us to recruit. I mean before, people say oh you’re so lucky Kathy you’re at Harvard, you can get anyone you want, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well now there’s enough to go around so you just have to make sure you’re evaluating right because if you throw someone away and another Ivy gets her then that’s going to haunt you for four years.
That’s sort of what goes on in the league. I think that makes, on the women’s side at least, an unbelievably competitive conference, for us to be seven, eight, 11, 10, anywhere in there, that just speaks volumes to how wonderful what the Ivy League does, is. And I think women love it. We all know the abuses and the excesses out there in the scholarship world and I just think the Ivy League holds true to academics and balance and they do it the right way.
REPORTER: Senator Birch Bayh passed away the other day. He was one of the main congressional supporters of Title IX. Can you speak to how that affects what we’re going through right now?
KATHY DELANEY-SMITH: Well, I’m a Title IX person. So I graduated from college in 1971 when it first passed, and I walked into a high school where it was horrific what girls had. I walked in and my team wore woolen field hockey skirts, passed down, and so I filed four lawsuits in the early 70’s because of Title IX so for me, I mean I thank Birch and all the people who worked so hard on Title IX because it just changed the world. And I think there’s more to go. I’m a big fan of equity and all that and so Title IX is a religion, to me.
REPORTER: Jumping off what you talked about in terms of a lot of times Ivy programs are going after the same player. I know you were looking to recruit Bella Alarie before she ended up going to Princeton. Now there’s a conversation about her as a next level player so I have two questions. One is, how much she’s changed and how fundamentally different is she from when she got to school and also whether you think that having a player make that jump and having extended time in the League changes the program the way Allison Feaster did for you?
KATHY DELANEY-SMITH: Yes, I cried when she chose Princeton and she’s an impact player. She’s a game changer for sure. I remember having conversations with Bella about Feaster, when she talked about, so when Allison Feaster came to Harvard she had never shot a three point shot. She was one of the country’s great three point shooters, as a forward. I wanted her as a three. We had no forwards so she moved to the forward then we had no centers, so she could, they were interchangeable four and five. But she was truly a three. So when she went off to the WNBA she said the hardest thing for her was to defend perimeter players, as opposed to defending fours and fives in the people we played.
I don’t know what Bella will be because if she’s inside she’s going to get smacked. So maybe that’s Bella’s same challenge when she goes to the next level that Allison Feaster had. If they use her as a three, because she has a beautiful outside game and I mean, she was a phenomenal high school shooter. I think her body size and her cover are her strength versus who she’s going to go against, Sylvia Fowles for example. That’s going to hurt.