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What does 89 really mean? For starters, let’s stop apologizing. It’s not “women’s basketball.” It’s basketball.

posted by Fair Game News
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 7:33pm EST

Seeking equality on -- and off -- the field. The strong connection between organized athletics and power (political, economic, social) means sports have consequences far beyond the game. FairGameNews.com aims to challenge sex-stereotyped assumptions and practices that dominate sports -- and recognize that sports can be a tool for seeking equal treatment and fair play.

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By Rachael Goldenberg

It’s now 89. Officially the NCAA college basketball win-streak record. And if this team’s composure so far is any indication, the streak isn’t ending anytime soon.

What do we do with this? How does the world look different for women’s sports today? What now?

Well, for starters, let’s go with this dominance. Leading up to last night’s game on ESPN2 there were questions – should the women own this record? (good for Greg Wooden for being at the XL Center). But we can stop apologizing. Let’s not talk about the women’s NCAA college b-ball win streak record. It’s THE NCAA record.

The truth is that women’s college basketball arrived several years ago. But this event makes that clear to a wider audience. Networks, get ready. There is drama to be had (think UConn vs. Stanford at Stanford. Story line: Who will be the streak killer?)

Here’s what I saw in watching number 89:

– Let’s start by saying how refreshing it is to hear the praise for this UConn team, to see them as the lead on SportsCenter, to see President Obama’s phone call to coach Geno Auriemma). Good for the fair number of male sportswriters arguing why this streak is just as compelling at the UCLA men, countering naysayers in a detailed, smart way. They get that it is tough to be so good. And to do it consistently.

– Now there is work to be done. ESPN2 only advertised men’s basketball during timeouts. Isn’t this the moment to grow the women’s basketball audience and appeal to those viewers who want to tune in?

–  Commentator coverage for women’s basketball has improved dramatically in recent years but why ask – over and over – if UConn’s dominance is bad for the game? During Tiger’s run, did anyone worry about that? Just as Tiger at the top was thrilling to watch for the absolute skill with which he played, seeing Maya Moore (41 points against Florida State) do what she does is incredible.

– Geno may think he is a “man breaking into an old girls network” but since Title IX the number of men’s coaches of women’s sports has increased dramatically. He’s far from being alone. While Geno’s comments sometime reflect the sense that he must defend himself as a women’s coach – is he among the greatest ever or women’s greatest ever? – it’s time to get past the differentiation. UConn should schedule equally with their men’s team (not fewer games in the XL Center than the guys) and they should financially support and promote them equally as well. Kudos to Geno for calling out the bias (if they were breaking a women’s record it would be 2 paragraphs in USA Today).

Finally, #89 means that, even if only for a week, the entire nation’s attention was focused on a women’s team and their athletic prowess. On TV sets all over the world, words like “leadership” and “greatness” were used in conjunction with “young women” and “female”. Ultimately this win was not only another success for the Huskies, but a win for women in general.

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