Sweet 16

(March 29, 2013) Hear the audio version

So, how are your March Madness brackets looking this week? A little wobbly? Mine are good: Stanford and Cal are still standing. So are Baylor, UConn and Notre Dame. “Ohhh,” you say. “You’re talking about the women.”

You bet! I’m always amazed when women who promote women’s causes all year ‘round and also like basketball often ignore the NCAA women’s tournament. This is not the basketball I played in high school pre-Title IX, wearing a ridiculous red jumper over a long-sleeved white blouse and not crossing the center line, as I was a forward and not allowed to play the entire court. (Only “rovers” could do that.)

Take the undisputed star of women’s college basketball, 6-foot-8 Baylor senior center Brittney Griner, with a 7-foot-4-inch wingspan and a 60.8 percent field-goal percentage. She ranks first in the NCAA among women and men in blocking shots.

Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike, a junior forward and Pac-12 Player of the Year, helped hand Brittney’s Bears their only defeat of the season. Layshia Clarendon, a senior at Cal, led her Golden Bears in scoring and earned Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year honors. Perhaps she’s why President Obama picked Cal to make it to the Final Four.

These young women and their teammates are actual student-athletes. According to ESPN, the 64 schools in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament combined to graduate 90 percent of their players. The men’s teams? Only 70 percent. Women don’t jump ship after a year or two to play for the NBA, as many students at elite university men’s programs do. Less turnover means athletes have more time to grow together as a team. It’s also fun for fans to see players mature through their college careers. And though I bleed Cardinal red, I’ve loved watching the emerging success of women’s basketball in Berkeley.

So if you’re fine with a crapshoot, go ahead and stay in the men’s pool. But my (imaginary) bets are on the teams on the way to the Women’s Final Four in New Orleans. You’re welcome to join me.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Good Night, Ladies: College women, not ladies, play basketball

(April 2, 2010) Hear the audio version

The NCAA women’s basketball Final Four is set. Here are the teams: Stanford Cardinal, Oklahoma Sooners, Connecticut Huskies, Baylor Bears. Pardon me – make that the Baylor Lady Bears.

Baylor is the one “Lady” team left in this year’s tournament. Despite what you may have heard, Stanford has never been the Lady Cardinal. Connecticut’s women are Huskies, not Lady Huskies, as they are inexplicably referred to by some sportscasters. And that’s the problem with having a few throwbacks from a bygone era in sports. Universities that continue to use “Lady” in their team names – all Southern schools, I might add – are devaluing the athleticism and equality of not only their own female student-athletes, but of all women’s teams. If I start hearing or reading about the Baylor Gentlemen Bears or Tennessee Lord Volunteers, I promise to rethink my case.

I played basketball before Title IX, so I know we’ve come a long way. Forty years ago, Greenwich High School had a boys gym on one floor of the 1925 brick school building and a girls gym on the other. Yet in 1969, the girls teams were not allowed to practice in our own gym after school; the boys varsity and junior varsity squads laid claim to both. So we girls ran across town through the snow to an elementary school for our practices.

We wore ridiculous red jumpers over white blouses for uniforms. It was the last year of six girls on a court: two forwards, two guards and two “rovers.” Only rovers were allowed to cross the center line. Apparently we were athletic enough to run a mile to our practice arena, but not to the other end of the court in a game.

Spend five minutes this weekend watching women’s teams in the Final Four, and terms such as aggressive, athletic, strong, intense, fast, powerful and physical come to mind. Ladylike? Probably not. These young women are serious, competitive athletes, and deserve to be treated – and referred to – as such.

So how about a chorus of “Good Night, Ladies?”