AP Photo/Bob Child
UConn coach Geno Auriemma reacts during a win over Marquette, the team’s 87th in a row, last week.
There is some kind of noise connected to the UConn women’s basketball team as it approaches the iconic 88 – that is, the winning-streak standard that UCLA’s men’s basketball team accomplished in the early 1970s.
A blah buzz? A muzzled murmur?
A stifled media yawn?
In her column this week for USA Today (linked here), Christine Brennan called it a flagant foul, practically scolding the sports communications industry for failing to generate much of anything decibel-related for this pending achievement. Not even so much as giving it the obligatory apples-to-oranges sides that are drawn with any debate of such low-lying fruit.
On the flip side, a men’s team that happened to be zoning on the Bruins’ NCAA record would have every four-letter network turning upside down trying to produce daily countdown specials, websites and documentaries.
Yet, Brennan’s disappointment that the UConn-Ohio State game on a late-season NFL Sunday that could celebrate the Huskies’ 88th win in a row has “been relegated” to ESPNU and takes away from “the top billing” that the achievement deserves has merit, despite what one high-level ESPN person believes.
“ESPNU is in 73 million homes, and it’s the network of college sports, and this is a huge college sports moment,” Tina Thornton, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer, said today. “So, you know . . . I guess people can say all they want about where we put it, but it’s a great vehicle for a great game.”
But definitely far from the greatest.
From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., in the second matchup at the Maggie Dixon Classic doubleheader from New York that celebrates the life of the late Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks player and Army coach, ESPN has committed to a college football review show and taped women’s billiards. ESPN2 has a review of the NASCAR Nationwide series, an NHRA “Thrills & Spills” special, and the start of a taped poker marathon.
Perhaps adding even more insult to insecurity: ABC, the widest-reaching network in the Disney-ESPN broadcast family, has given that time back to its affiliates. KABC Channel 7 in Los Angeles follows a public affairs program with two hours of infomercials. All because it is up against an NFL doubleheader on CBS and a single game on Fox.
“It’ll be fascinating to see the ratings,” said Doris Burke, the ABC NBA sideline reporter who’ll be Dave O’Brien’s game analyst for Sunday’s telecast. “I think ESPN will make sure over the next couple of days that this strike is on the minds of the national consciousness. It’s worthy of having been there before now. Women’s sports is constantly striving to make greater inroads into that coveted male demographic of 18-to-35 years olds.”
Maybe that’s why ESPN2 will air the women’s contest between No. 6 Tennessee and No. 2 Stanford on Sunday at 4 p.m.?
If UConn is able to go for win No. 89 on Tuesday, a home game against No. 14 Florida State, ESPN2 will have it at 4 p.m. That was also originally scheduled for ESPNU.
Rebecca Lobo, the game’s sideline reporter and former UConn star, says she has a different perspective of the attention that the Huskies’ streak has received.
“Since I’m living in Connecticut, I see the newspapers and telecasts definitely give them their due,” she said. “And ESPN has done a pretty good job as well. I’m excited about what’s about to happen and how they’ll cover it.”
It’s easy to forget that when UCLA’s streak spanned from 1971-’74, most home games weren’t televised live, but aired on KTLA-Channel 5 near the midnight hour, with Dick Enberg on the call. A nationally syndicated game for TV was far more of a special event, not even taking into account that ESPN still five years off before its launch.
A newspaper preview of UCLA’s Feb. 6, 1971 game against USC at the 15,000-plus L.A. Sports Arena, which has been sold out for weeks, made sure to mention that it would be shown “on live TV and on 100 stations across the country.”
UCLA, which sat at No. 3 in the AP poll prior to that game because of its loss to Notre Dame, beat then-No. 2 USC, 64-60. It was win No. 2 in their eventual streak of 88.
The fact that UCLA’s streak ended in 1974 in a nationally televised game at Notre Dame gave the event more prominence, etched in the minds of those who recall watching it happen.
If the UConn women’s streak ends one game short of 88 on Sunday, who will claim to have witnessed it live?