The Problem With Geno Auriemma Calling Men’s College Basketball “A Joke”

I’m not sure what compelled a reporter to ask UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma what he thought the state of men’s college basketball was at the moment. I won’t deny that Geno certainly has a love and an eye for the sport. But it’s like when people ask Barack Obama about sports. Frankly, who cares what Geno or Barack think of the 35 second shot clock?

But that’s not the issue. Once the question was asked, what compelled Geno Auriemma to call the men’s college basketball “a joke”? Sure, he listed a variety of strawman arguments that I’ll tackle in a moment, but what in his brain made him think, “These are good words to say.” Before we move on to the words he chose to say, allow me to conjecture on his motives.

Every time UConn has one of their best years or goes on some long winning streak, the hypothetical of Geno moving over to the men’s side is brought up. To me, the interesting part of the hypothetical is not whether Geno would want to, or even if he’d be successful. To me, the interesting question is, who would hire Geno Auriemma to coach a men’s basketball team? If he expressed interest in the Alabama men’s job, would the feeling be mutual? Certainly a program like George Mason or DePaul, both of whom fired their coaches, would be intrigued. The best version of this scenario would be Tennessee, home of his once rival Pat Summitt and her Lady Vols, reaching out to see if he’d be interested in coaching the Man Vols.

Now, I doubt any of these schools considered the possibility of Geno as their next men’s coach. I don’t know that anyone ever has. You’d think someone in the past 10 years would at least contact him to see if he’s interested. The fact of the matter is, the men’s game is higher profile, more respected (right or wrong, this is the case), and has more money behind it. UConn is able to pay Geno handsomely to coach their women’s team, but I’d be shocked if he had not at least fielded an offer or a passing conversation about the possibility of heading to the men’s side, with a money bump behind it.

Given that Geno is still coaching his team at UConn, obviously he’s turned away every advance from the men’s side. At this point, I’d doubt he’ll ever try it. And now I think we may know why.

The concept of men coaching women’s basketball is an interesting one. I grew up surrounded by the game, played by both genders. My father was a high school boy’s coach during my entire childhood, while my mother has always coached high school girls. In her entire coaching career, she has never had a male assistant. My sister just completed her first season as a high school head coach. Her bench was also all female. I’ve dabbled in coaching and would love to again, but at no point have I or would I consider coaching girls. That has nothing to do with the quality or style of play.

The emotional and personal connection between a male coach and his male player is something I’m very familiar with. I’ve been on either side of it, enjoying them both. The emotional and personal connection between a male coach and a female player has to be undeniably different. I don’t have the experience to say so, and if I’m speaking out of turn or saying something that offends any of my feminist readers (which I probably don’t even have), forgive me. The subtle differences of these two experiences exists along a spectrum. Some guys and some girls would require the same style of coaching, whether that be motivation, teaching, or in celebration. But it is my understanding that for the vast majority of players, there would be a noticeable difference between the two genders. That would be my main reason for choosing to coach men/boys over women/girls.

But it would seem that Geno Auriemma disagrees. He must recognize that divide, but with comments like this, he makes the point (or at least makes the public stance) that he prefers women’s college basketball to men’s college basketball, mainly for style and aesthetic reasons.

From his comments:

“College men’s basketball is so far behind the times it’s unbelievable.  I mean women’s basketball is behind the times.  Men’s basketball is even further behind the times.”

Strictly based on style of play, he believes that women’s college basketball is more modern and more fan friendly than the men’s game. I’m assuming his only real point is that the women play with a shorter shot clock. Sure, that feels like a way to bring the game into the current century, but there’s really nothing modern about shorter shot clocks. The NBA has used 24 seconds since 1954. The purpose of the shot clock was, and always should be in my opinion, to prevent teams from holding the ball, not to artificially change the pace of play. But, back to Geno’s opinions:

“There’s only like ten teams, you know, out of 25, that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you’d like to watch.  Every coach will tell you that there’s 90 million reasons for it. And the bottom line is that nobody can score, and they’ll tell you it’s because of great defense, great scouting, a lot of team work, nonsense, nonsense.”

First, I’d like Geno to list his 10 men’s teams worth watching. Then I’d like him to show me 10 women’s teams worth watching. He’d obviously start with UConn, which makes sense. Geno must love watching his own team, since they score more points per game than any men’s team.

But they are a powerhouse and not necessarily indicative of the sport as a whole. Compare the median scoring averages for men and women. The 175th (of 351) women’s teams is Valparaiso at 64.0 points per game. The men’s median? That would be 67.4 points, by 175th ranked Texas. It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but do you think fans would prefer the Valpo ladies to the Longhorns?

Geno?

“This is entertainment we’re talking about.  People have to decide, do I want to play 25 bucks, 30 bucks to go see a college scrum where everybody misses six out of every ten shots they take, or do I want to go to a movie?  We’re fighting for the entertainment dollar, here, and I have to tell you it’s not entertainment from a fan’s standpoint.”

Is going to a men’s college basketball game more entertaining than going to a movie? Interesting question. A better one to pose to Geno would be, “Is going to watch your UConn team win by an AVERAGE of 42 points better than a movie? Is watching the second half of most Huskies games worse than paying to spend a few hours on a broken roller coaster?”

There is a debate to be had between an NBA fan and a men’s college basketball fan. They are both immensely popular (Geno used that exact phrase), yet strikingly different. That’s an interesting comparison.

Women’s college basketball is not immensely popular. Do you know which four markets were treated to the women’s regionals this year? Oklahoma City, Albany, Greensboro, and Spokane. Those are the 42nd, 61st, 71st, and 101st largest markets in the US.

Last year the average attendance for a Division I women’s basketball game was just north of 1,500 people, less than half what a men’s game draws. More fans attended the home games of the top 28 best attended men’s teams than all 343 women’s teams combined.

Geno’s comments lead me to believe he thinks he was speaking about his peers. About a problem equal to or below him and his brand of basketball. The problem is that it’s not about the shot clock, scoring, or rules. Like it or not, more than I, you, or especially Geno would like to admit, women’s basketball is left behind.

If he thinks the men’s game is a joke, what does that make women’s hoops?

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

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