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Obama, father of tall daughters, meets the UConn Women’s Basketball Team (and gushes)

April 27, 2009 – 5:50 PM

By Laura Pappano

Everybody knows that President Obama is a big college hoops fan. But most of his public affection has focused on the men’s side (click here to see a photo of him with his March Madness picks). Today, however, he had the chance to enumerate the dominance of the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team — this particular team with it’s 39-0 season — and the program with six of the last 15 NCAA titles and three undefeated regular seasons. (click here for a photo of Obama and the team).

He made the point in his formal remarks (before inviting the players to shoot around on his private court beyond camera view) that “for this team, an undefeated season just wasn’t enough — they became the first team in NCAA history, men or women’s, to win every single game by double digits, which is just an unbelievable, unbelievable statistic.”

He also emphasized their academic success and the program’s 100-percent graduation rate (see what happens when college isn’t merely a ticket-punch-stop on the way to the pros?)

But most striking was the way he talked about this team as the father of daughters: “And thanks to players like each of these women and those who came before them, our young women today look at themselves differently, especially tall young women, like my daughters.”

There was more — about the “positive example to which our daughters can aspire — to be healthy and active, to be part of a team.”

He offered familiar feel-good phrases that 1) are actually true for the NCAA female athletes he mentioned and 2) are rarely applied to male college athletes and 3) make me woozy.

It is the constant conflict between — well — being Bad Ass and being virtuous. Being viewed as serious stuff and being framed as grown-up versions of girls in ponytails playing community sports on Saturdays.

YET — we need not have this conflict. Frankly, it’s time for college sports programs, fans, public and media to treat female athletes — not like little sisters — but equal partners with men’s programs. (And in the process, maybe we could sprinkle the guy’s side with a little of that role-model, college-graduation dust).

For those who love to bring it all back to markets (and colleges are NOT markets), consider that women’s college basketball offers a serious growth opportunity in expanding fan bases (note: big mailing to fathers of tall girls). The men’s side may be maxed out. (How much more can people honestly pay for tickets — or the opportunity to purchase tickets?)

Maybe next year, the White House can also share a photo of the First Family with their picks for the 2010 NCAA March Madness tournament — on the women’s side.

Now that would be Bad Ass and virtuous.

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