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March Madness: Barometer of women’s sport progress?

March 23, 2010 – 11:09 AM

By Laura Pappano

There may be other ways to judge progress, but this year’s NCAA Women’s DI Basketball Tournament offers signs worth noting:

1. PRESIDENTIAL PICKS. For the first time, President Obama filled out NCAA DI Basketball brackets — for the women’s tournament. (See image at right — or click here.)

Last year, we noticed that although he invited the UConn women to the White House and played some hoops, that he’d never filled out a bracket. Now that his top men’s pick — Kansas — is out of contention, maybe he will lean on the women to make him look good. (Wouldn’t be the first time).

2. PACKED STANDS. Another tournament positive is that — unlike some past years — the stands at first and second-round games look pretty packed. While that may be the result of TV angles or strategic seating by the hosts, it was easy in past year tournaments to see lots of open chairbacks. Some of this may be that several of the games are hosted by home teams, but not all. Consider last night’s stunning 72-71 Gonzaga win over Texas A&M in front of revved-up fans — at the University of Washington, a neutral site.

Perhaps the crowds — or the appearance of crowds — reflect a recognition about the intensity and entertainment value of the women’s game. (Should we blame amped-up intensity  for recent high-profile aggression, as a New York Times story suggests? Unclear.)

3. NO WHINING ABOUT “PARITY.” It is refreshing to see that even though coaches of top teams put Connecticut on a different level than everyone else, we aren’t hearing that annoying word — “parity” — and that the women’s side lacks it.

Connecticut is dominant this year, but unlike the old days when UConn and Tennessee plucked all the best players, there is talent all around Division I. This doesn’t mean the same old cranks won’t complain that women aren’t worth watching. It’s just that fewer people seem to believe them.

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