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Morrissey: We couldn’t care less about women’s basketball

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

You can’t shame someone into loving women’s college basketball, any more than you can shame someone into loving Velveeta, but Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma keeps trying.

Three months ago, he accused “all the miserable [people] who follow men’s basketball” of not wanting his team to break the UCLA men’s national record of 88 consecutive victories.

On Tuesday night, after the Huskies had dispatched Purdue in the NCAA tournament, he criticized his team’s own supporters for not showing up in force at UConn’s arena.

“We have a spoiled group of fans,’’ he said.

There’s a book title we can borrow from to describe the state of women’s basketball: He’s Just Not That Into You. Auriemma can complain all he wants, can point out the injustice of a team and a sport being ignored, but the bottom line is what the public has to say about it. And what the public mostly has to say, in terms of attendance and TV ratings, is a shrug. If that’s another way of saying men are ignoring the sport, so be it. They’re just not into it.

Women deserve the same opportunities as men in the sports world, but no democracy on the planet can force citizens to be interested. By the way, you can replace the words “women’s basketball” with “soccer’’ in America and have a similar discussion.

There’s no need to apologize if you find women’s basketball a lesser product than men’s basketball. You can appreciate the women’s game for what it is, but you can’t say it’s anywhere near on a par with the men’s game. The truth is that Simeon’s Class 4A boys state championship team would blow the UConn women out of the gym.

I like my basketball played above the rim. I don’t think that makes me sexist. I think it makes me discerning.

Part of the appeal of men’s college and pro basketball is in knowing that the athletes can do things on a court you can’t. And maybe that’s part of the problem for a percentage of the male population in this country: It believes, perhaps incorrectly, that it could compete with the best female players, provided it got off the couch, cut back on the beer and ran around the park a couple of times to get in shape.

The most rabid fans can appreciate the women’s game in a vacuum, and they’re lucky. They don’t comparison shop. They see beauty in the precision and the fundamentals. I watch a women’s game, and all I see is men’s basketball wearing ankle weights.

The discrepancies are more exaggerated in women’s basketball than in most other sports. I watch women’s track or women’s tennis and don’t feel as if I’m watching something less. But basketball? It’s not even close.

It doesn’t help that Auriemma has a chip on his shoulder the size of his hair. It’s one thing to be the winner everyone loves to hate. It’s another to be a scold. Who is this guy to lecture anyone on what to watch?

“If we were breaking a women’s record,’’ he said in December, “everybody would go, ‘Aren’t those girls nice, let’s give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let’s send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.’ ’’

Who said women don’t belong on the basketball court? No one, and Auriemma knows it. But he’s going for the cheap, easy attack meant to stifle discussion and induce feelings of guilt. The man works guilt like a boxer works the midsection of an opponent.

As Auriemma also knows, media outlets don’t drive interest in various sports; the public does.

The media are a business. If there were oodles of money to be made from the women’s game, the networks would be all over it. There isn’t, and thus the networks are not.

It’s nobody’s duty in the media to see that women’s college basketball succeeds. It’s up to the game, and judging by the interest in terms of attendance and viewership, it has been found wanting.

Auriemma has an all-star team of some of the best players in the country. There are only a handful of programs that can compete with his. That’s reality. The beauty of the men’s NCAA tournament is the suspense and drama that unfolds every year. Too often, the only drama in the women’s game is whether UConn will win by 30 or 40 points.

Only 5,729 people, about half the capacity of the arena, showed up to watch Connecticut beat Purdue. The ones who stayed away might have been the smart ones. The Boilermakers shot 25.9 percent from the field. That’s hard to do. Harder to watch.

You can’t make people love you. Wait a second, yes, you can. You can stop nagging them.

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