February 24, 2024

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Women’s basketball deserves better than the management’s shoddy and paternalistic rhetoric

Women’s basketball deserves better than the management’s shoddy and paternalistic rhetoric

DALLAS – As the crowd roared with displeasure, Caitlin Clark’s jaw dropped. Mouth open, she looked stunned as she walked toward the Iowa state bench. She raised her palms, as if to ask: What did you do?

For some, the enduring image of the 2023 Women’s National Basketball Tournament will be tears of joy from Kim Mulkey or Angel Reese taunting Clark in his final seconds. To me, it is the absurdity of the technical foul that was imposed on Clark for flipping a basketball behind her back. The error, Clark’s fourth, put the most exciting player in the sport on the bench with 63 seconds left in the third quarter. LSU completely outplayed Iowa on Sunday, but that’s not what everyone was buzzing about afterward.

Women’s basketball deserves better. It deserves better management. It deserves a smarter commentary than the peanut gallery. Most of all, it deserves to be treated as a serious sport.

37 fouls were called in 40 minutes of play on Sunday, distributed evenly between the two teams. LSU and Iowa both struggled with calls that forced their best players off the bench for the biggest game of their lives. Reese missed the entire second quarter due to two foul calls early on. Clark picked up two early, too — he called for a drive, not even on the defensive end of the floor. She said afterwards, “I thought they called it very, very narrow.” “Obviously, the big deal isn’t really what you want in the national championship game.”

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder went further, saying she was very frustrated that the officials didn’t listen to her on the court. Three of her five starters started the fourth quarter off the bench. Her LSU counterpart, Kim Mulkey, seemed to have much more success working with umpires; She had never woken up despite entering the court several times and even having physical contact with an official.

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It was, in short, embarrassing.

The players didn’t deserve such a bad and inconsistent match. The coaches didn’t either. and sell crowd and A record number of fans tune in to watch Clark and Reese (9.9 million, ESPN said in a statement Monday) You didn’t pay for those tickets or turn on their TVs to see stop after stop and hear the whistle blare.

“From a fan standpoint, there was a lot of disappointment with how the game was run because the best players didn’t play,” said John Adams, former NCAA men’s national coordinator for men’s basketball. “Having that level of management in this type of game, I think, has really hurt the rapid rise of women’s basketball. No official position has ever been perfect anywhere, but that was awful, man.”

Adams, who headed the men’s management program from 2008 to 2015, said he used to remind his Final Four crews that games are always better when the best players play. It was the only time he met in person during the entire course – and such an important reminder.

Women’s basketball has been under the spotlight for quite some time, but it hasn’t always been in the spotlight in front of audiences of this magnitude. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say, and the time to fix that is now. This means a more robust recruitment program, better training and a more rigorous evaluation process to determine which officials apply for the biggest games. This cannot happen again, not as the sport continues to grow.

For a long time, fans and the media alike have treated women’s basketball—and women’s sports in general—as a form of charity. It wasn’t so much about the product on the court as it was about patting you on the back for being one of the good guys. It doesn’t matter if those tickets you got for the game came as part of a discounted package to try to fill the seats, or if they were free. Brownie points are calculated in the same way.

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More than 6 million people tuned in to watch Iowa play South Carolina in the Final Four on Friday night. Broadcast on ABC, Iowa-LSU is easily accessible for more eyeballs. The cheapest single ticket to get into American Airlines Center on Sunday was over $400. Clark and Reese are bona fide superstars, amassing a huge social media following and nothing big money deals. The demand to confront them was real; Nobody watched this game just to support the sport but because they wanted to see a great match in compelling numbers.

We saw a sport take a giant leap this weekend. You don’t often realize that something like this is happening right now, but it’s undeniable. That’s why the official bothered me so much. It’s also why I couldn’t stand the post-game rhetoric about Reese and Clark, both elite trash-talkers. Of course, there was a racial undertone to the comments praising Clarke for her behavior on court but calling Reese “classless” (a word that was trending on Twitter in the aftermath) for her taunts. Cultures have collided dramatically on multiple fronts.

A lot of the male critics who lunged into the conversation ostensibly on behalf of Clarke wanted to portray her as a victim, despite the fact that Clarke didn’t express any anger or hurt feelings afterward, and said she never saw Reese wave her hand because it was her. Trying to get to the handshake line. Clark is a trash talker and relentless competitor, just like Reese, and they’ll both continue to play that way because it’s what makes them so great. But the critics who exploited Reese to somehow protect Clark were doing so with arrogance and such obvious paternalism, as well as veiled racism.

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Caitlin Clark doesn’t need a white knight. It’s not your charitable cause either. She is an athlete who handles her business and should be treated like any other elite male athlete. This is a sport that needs to be treated as a real sport, which means that there are winners, losers, and discussions about who is the best player. It’s okay to criticize players and coaches who make mistakes. For a long time, the keepers of the sport believed they needed to be an advocate for women’s basketball at all times in order for it to grow, and that just meant writing positive stories or treating players with kid gloves. We should be over that by now.

So, let’s elevate the sport to meet its moment. Fix what has been sub par and unacceptable for far too long. Treat the producer as the money-maker as it is when the media rights deal is done. And let these tough women fight their own battles.

This is what this sport deserves.

(Photo by Caitlin Clark: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)