Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Husky Women Make History

Congratulations to UConn! This is a genuinely towering competitive accomplishment.

And it gives me a chance to write one of the most gleefully obnoxious posts I've written in a long time.

There is, predictably, a lot of lame commentary going on in the ESPN forums about how the record can't be compared to the '71-'74 Bruins record because women's basketball isn't as competitive as men's basketball. A sample, which I actually picked because it was less stupid than most:
Its #### women's basketball. Obviously an impressive streak, but the competition is so small compared to men's hoops. UCLA's streak is in a completely different conversation. I'm not trying to be sexist but its the truth...congrats UCONN, but it does not compare to UCLA's streak. Theres only a select 5-10 teams with a legitamate chance of winning women's hoops each year, whereas in men's hoops theres so much talent any team can win on any given day.
Now this guy at least is trying to address the competitive issue, unlike the hilariously dimwitted character who sneered, "another reason the mens and womens game cannot compare. the most simple aspect of the game has been made easier in favor of the women. you can fit two womens basketballs inside a hoop at once, men can only fit one." Resisting the urge to congratulate this gentleman for having discovered the heretofore unknown fact that men have bigger balls than women, I merely point out that for two basketball winning streaks to be comparable, it is only necessary that each of the two habitually winning teams in question be required to use the same ball as do their opponents.

But what is clearly lost on the geniuses ranting in that forum, is the fact that, while it is quite true that "the competition is so small compared to men's hoops. UCLA's streak is in a completely different conversation...Theres only a select 5-10 teams with a legitamate chance of winning women's hoops each year, whereas in men's hoops theres so much talent any team can win on any given day," that is only true of men's sports now. It was absolutely not the case in the 1970's, when UCLA set the men's record. From 1961 to 1978 there were only nine teams who won NCAA titles, and while obviously this had a lot to do with UCLA's ten titles, still you see Cincinnati coming one game from a threepeat in '61-'63, you see Duke and Kentucky and North Carolina (sound familiar?) making eleven Final Fours among them in that stretch...

In 1974, when UCLA's streak ended, ESPN was still five years from its first telecast and nobody had ever heard the word "Sportscenter." You could catch a replay of a Dr. J in 1974 if you watched the late-night news religiously -- the Doc's professional career began the same year the streak did. The NCAA tournament was still untelevised (at least the early rounds) and nobody had ever called it "March Madness." So you didn't exactly have a nation of young men who had grown up watching hours upon hours of top-quality basketball on high-def TV and practicing the moves in endless pickup games. And as for the quality of the formal coaching -- well, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education was handed down in 1971, meaning that most young black men of college age in 1971 had played in segregated schools with appalling facilities and bad coaching -- creating immense opportunities for a high-quality coach such as Wooden to open huge gaps between his team's play and that of his opponents'. There is absolutely no way that Wooden's UCLA streak could possibly be compared to the near-supernatural feat that would be represented by an 88-game winning streak starting tomorrow by, say, Duke.

You see, the idiot chauvinists in those comments have perfectly good arguments to prove that UConn's streak should not be compared to an 88-game win streak in today's men's game. But if that means that UConn shouldn't be allowed to claim the record on the grounds that they have reeled off those wins in a vastly less talented, vastly less skilled, and vastly less uniformly competitive landscape than today's men's NCAA...why, then, it also means that the 1971-1974 Bruins ought not be allowed to claim the record, either -- and on exactly the same grounds.


Listen, if you're really desperate to keep your male chauvinist brass...trophies...buffed and shiny, then you shouldn't be whining about how female basketball players aren't as athletic at male players -- only the willfully insane would deny that. And you shouldn't be complaining that the women's game isn't as competitive as the men's game and then using that to argue that a men's streak from forty years ago is better than a women's streak now, because the best that can be said for that complaint is that you have put very little thought into it. What you should be pointing out -- since most feminists don't argue that they are as good at athletics as men but DO try to claim that women are just as good at brains and leadership -- is the striking fact that the one women's team that has completely lapped the field and could now spot practically any other women's team 20 points and still win going away, is the team coached by practically the only male coach in women's NCAA basketball. (And the only female coach who still owns any record Geno hasn't broken, namely Tennessee's Pat Summit who has about two more months to enjoy being one national championship ahead of Geno, got so tired of being regularly spanked that she now refuses to play against UConn unless forced to in the NCAA tournament.) Fastest to 500 wins? Geno. Fastest to 600 wins? A tie between Geno and Phillip Kahler -- oh, look, another male women's coach! Fastest to 700 wins? Geno. Fastest to seven championships? Geno (twenty-five years to Pat's thirty-three, and I doubt you'd find anybody outside of Tennessee who thinks Pat will get to ten before Geno does). Number of undefeated seasons by Geno? Four. Number of other undefeated seasons by all other NCAA women's basketball coaches in the entire history of the NCAA, combined?


This isn't strictly speaking an argument for men's superiority over women generally speaking, because it is almost certainly simply an example of the well-known fact that in many human characteristics (notoriously, for example, intelligence) the variance of the distribution is higher in the male population than in the female, even though the means are roughly identical. That is to say, if you took a thousand women and a thousand men and gave them each a basketball team to coach, the average coach and the average coachette would be about the same -- but the worst four or five male coaches would probably achieve depths of suckitude that none of the female coaches would dream of inflicting upon their hapless victims players, while the best four or five male coaches would probably be quite a bit better than the best female coach.

But at the NCAA elite level, you are of course way out in the tail of the distribution, where you're not working with random coaches -- you're working with samples that have been highly and brutally sorted for efficiency. And, sadly for Pat Summit and Geno's other competition, it turns out that at the tail of the distributions, the higher male standard deviation makes it almost inevitable that the men's tail is at a significantly higher level than the women's tail. (That probably didn't come out right but I'm in too much of a hurry to fix it.) It's probably true that the super-elite male coaches coach at a level that largely can't be reached by their female counterparts with any consistency; Pat Summit might be able to win a lot of NCAA games if she coached a men's team because she would beat lots of average and even better-than-average male coaches, but any team coached by Pat Summit would be at a severe disadvantage if they had to go up against a team coached by Coach K, or Dean Smith, or Roy Williams, or John Wooden. Geno dominates the women's basketball landscape; but it's entirely possible that if he and Jim Calhoun were to switch places, the UConn men would rapidly become less competitive and the UConn women's average margin of victory would rapidly jump to thirty points a game. Not inevitable, mind you -- but entirely possible.

You see, if you want to take a male chauvinist approach to demeaning the UConn women's streak, then you shouldn't complain that the UConn women have it easy because they're playing against women -- that's a fair fight because they're women too. The real reason the streak can't fairly be compared to the UCLA streak is quite simple:

John Wooden had to coach against other men.

[chuckling evilly]

P.S. OK, the bit about Pat Summit's being regularly spanked by Geno isn't really true; it was pure snark. NCAA women's basketball championship coaches from 2000 to present:

2000 Geno
2001 somebody else
2002 Geno, beating Pat in the title game
2003 Geno, beating Pat in the title game
2004 Geno
2005 somebody else
2006 Pat
2007 Pat
2008 somebody else
2009 Geno
2010 Geno
2011 lookin' pretty good for the Huskies

So Pat did actually get him in '06 and '07. [sigh] It sucks to have a strong blogging conscience.


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