State of the Game

State of the Game

Last night, the Baylor Bears topped defending champs Notre Dame to win the NCAA women’s basketball championship. It is the third title for the Lady Bears and coach Kim Mulkey, and firmly plants the program among the elite in women’s college basketball.

Three hundred and fifty miles up the road from Baylor in Lubbock, Texas, lies the campus of Texas Tech University. Their men’s basketball squad will be looking to make it an all-Texas affair as they face off tonight against Virginia in the men’s NCAA title game in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the first appearance in the national championship game for the Red Raiders (as it is also for Virginia), and Tech has a Husky effort to bring a title to the Lone Star State in the same year as their peers at Baylor.

The NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament was inaugurated in 1982, with the Lady Techsters of Louisiana Tech defeating Cheyney University of Pennsylvania 76-62 to claim the first title. In the thirty-seven years that have followed, there have been two times women’s and men’s teams from the same state have won the title in the same year. What makes this statistical nugget more interesting, however, is both instances occurred at the same university.

In 2004, Jim Calhoun won his second national title at the University of Connecticut, leading the Huskies to an 82-73 victory over Georgia Tech. That same year, Geno Auriemma guided the women’s team to a nine-point victory over Pat Summitt‘s Tennessee crew in the championship game. It was Auriemma’s fifth title at UCONN, his fourth in three years, and his third in a row. However, it was only the start of the dominant run for UCONN women’s basketball. Ten years later, Auriemma would secure his ninth title (he currently has eleven) with a victory over Notre Dame. In 2014, the UCONN men also played in the championship game, defeating Kentucky to give Kevin Ollie his first title and the fourth championship for the men’s program at Connecticut.

From left to right, Geno Auriemma, Jim Calhoun, and Kevin Ollie.

If you’re wondering how close other teams have come to accomplishing the in-state victory celebration, both squads from Duke University lost the title games in 1999. In 2011, the Fighting Irish women’s basketball team of Notre Dame secured the championship, while the men of Butler University lost to Jim Calhoun and UCONN. Notre Dame and Butler are both in Indiana. Two years later, as Rick Pitino‘s Louisville Cardinals cut down the nets in victory, Jeff Walz‘s Louisville women’s squad fell short to Auriemma‚Äôs Lady Huskies in the championship game.

Tonight, UVA is a 1.5 point favorite over Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders are playing like a proverbial team of destiny, and the Cavaliers have needed blunders on the part of their previous two opponents – Purdue and Auburn – to eke out victories and advance to the championship game. For Tech coach Chris Beard, he’s planning to ensure Kim Mulkey is not alone in celebrating in the Lone Star state.

Texas Tech’s Chris Beard. Photo via Yahoo Sports

Generic Sentiments

This year’s college football season kicked off with one. New Mexico women’s soccer produced another. We see it all too often on SportsCenter, be it from the NCAA, NFL, NBA of MLB. The generic apology. The modern day athlete’s get out of PR jail free card.

It’s almost as if every media relations person for any given team or athletic program reads from the same manual. A player on your squad does something stupid? Have them issue a first-person mea culpa with the following baseline structure: “I (sincerely / whole-heartedly) regret my actions. I (lost my cool / got caught up in the heat of the moment / let my emotions get the best of me), and I apologize to (victim, fans, teammates, organization) for my behavior.”

Even apologies from the coaches appear to be scripted. The remarks usually center on how that behavior is not condoned by the team, how the player is a good person who made a mistake, and how the situation will be addressed directly with the individual, usually internally. For once I would like to see a coach or manager come out and say, “That was stupid and reckless and I don’t want that player on my team. We don’t need fools like that on the field hurting others and impacting our ability to win.”

Instead, we get cookie-cutter responses that come wrapped in a bright yellow box. It’s the same apology and statement you heard last time and will hear again, probably sometime next week.

To be fair, in the cases of Oregon football and New Mexico soccer, the respective schools reacted firmly and decisively. Oregon’s LaGarrette Blount was kicked off the team for punching a Boise State football player following a loss at the beginning of the season. New Mexico’s Elizabeth Lambert was suspended indefinitely for her violent actions against BYU. In contrast, University of Florida’s Urban Meyer gave player Brandon Spikes only a half game suspension after he purposefully and deliberately attempted to gouge the eyes of Georgia’s Waushaun Ealey. Spikes imposed on himself a full game suspension, a move I doubt he would have chosen to make had their upcoming opponent been Alabama rather than Vanderbilt.

Still, the follow-up to all the ‘regrettable’ behavior is a statement made publicly by the players in question and their respective coaches. What is truly unfortunate is these individuals may indeed be sorry for their behavior. They may truly feel remorseful, as well as embarrassed, for how they acted and the results of those actions against another human being. Yet their feelings of contrition are painted over by the broad brush that results from us seeing this all too often, as is the case with this blog.

There is no solution for this problem. Individual players will continue to make individual mistakes. They, in turn, will issue yet another generic apology that will cause us to roll our eyes and think, “Yeah, whatever.” That is what’s truly regrettable.