It is impossible for most to understand how the Tar Heels women’s basketball team, perhaps the best in the country, was unranked this year at the beginning of the season. Let alone how such a talented team remains mired far below other lesser NCAA basketball teams. Especially when Sylvia Hatchell, the most widely decorated coach in basketball history, leads this talented team.
We will see just what this team is made of when the Lady Tar Heels meet storied program Tennessee in Knoxville tomorrow afternoon. My bet is that the Tar Heels win.
As for Hatchell, with Pat Summit retired, she has no peer today. Hatchell is the only coach to have coached teams to AIAW, NAIA and NCAA titles, the reason why I called her the most decorated. (The AIAW or Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was the original organization for almost all women’s sports, founded in 1971 to administer collegiate women’s sports and to award national championships. Winning such a championship is like having an NCAA championship today. Title IX resulted in substantial growth of the AIAW, finally gaining the interest of the NCAA because of the fact that women’s sports had become revenue generators.)
In perhaps her greatest season of all, her team in 2006-07 defeated national powers Tennessee and Connecticut and reigning champion Maryland and won a school record 34 games.
Hatchell herself has been the AP, WBCA and Basketball Times coach of the year. One of only four winners of more than 800 women’s basketball games, her record should be above reproach.
Yet there are still critics out there who do not give Hatchell and her teams their due. They will point out that she won her last NCAA title in 1994. They will claim that she should have done better with her talent. They will contend that her eight ACC titles, six seasons with 30 plus wins, and a completely undefeated ACC season winning all games in the regular season and the ACC tournament were somehow not great enough.
And of course, they will contend that the ACC is not the best women’s conference in the country.
Where do these critics come from and who are these people who put Hatchell and the ACC down?
If you watched any of the Big Ten (B1G) teams play this week, you may have noticed that the B1G cable channel managed to host several if not most of the women’s games. What you may have missed is that the ACC with its supposedly inferior talent and teams in both men’s and women’s basketball upset all expectations. The men tied 6-6 with the B1G even after UNC got crushed by Indiana. And the women ended up victorious over the B1G once again.
So much for the superiority of B1G.
B1G’s cable channel has former Big Ten basketball players as commentators and analysts. When you search for articles on the Challenge, the first article that comes up is from the B1G website in which the results of the tournament are buried with the commentary on Thursday’s Illinois basketball game. And these and other media are duly affected by B1G. It is, as its name implies, everywhere.
This is neither accidental or fair. But it does bring us to the truth about college sports today.
It is not who you are, but who you know that makes all the difference. And how many promote you in every type of media possible.
It has long been the case that the B1G does this one really well. So far, only basketball has much of a chance of completely submerging its opposition. Too much SEC media for college football.
If you are a UNC Tar Heel, your situation is even less bright. The biggest commentators in the men’s and women’s game include several who come from Duke. You remember. The team whose great Coach K said the ACC is in trouble.
Who does the football games for B1G? Yes, Ohio State alumni and those who have been B1G fans for decades of broadcasting like Brent Musburger. And this has been going on forever, despite B1G’s horrible record in bowls and general lack of football speed and talent. Remember, Nebraska is the likely winner of B1G football in its first year, although they may not have beaten Ohio State.
As in any age, use biased commentators and the tone and results are affected. And over time so are the people involved that make key decisions about the sport.
Today, the influence is much greater. With the media controlled by a handful of companies and universities bent on improving their image and value, there is nothing like making certain your opposition is denigrated as much as possible and your conference promoted as much as possible.
And the impact of the media blitz, including internet and main stream media, is so much more substantial today. The influence of those who promote and prefer the B1G is heightened by its own cable network and the promotion of those in other media.
Look around for the results of the Big Ten – ACC Challenges in both women’s and men’s basketball. It is like the results were eliminated by the media, especially on CBS Sports. The more this occurs, the more others actually in the game like referees will be affected.
We will get a chance to see just how good this year’s Lady Tar Heels team is in the coming months. My guess is that it is very good indeed.
But the first place to look for its merit is not the voters from the media and other coaches doing the women’s basketball polls.
Look at Lady Tar Heel results.
And then next year, look again at the polls. The Lady Tar Heels will be unbeatable and the preseason number 1.
It will be just too good not to rank it that way.
And it has Sylvia Hatchell, the best coach in the game.