FCP logo

Full Court Press

FCPrep logo

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Reaching the Tipping Point: The WNBA Has Achieved Critical Mass in Acceptance and Respect

Article Lead Image


Photo Credit: Original Artwork Courtesy istockphoto.com©




By Clay Kallam
Correspondent

Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t understand basketball at all, but the idea he popularized in The Tipping Point could well be good news for the WNBA.

For those who missed out on the simple concept that Gladwell managed to expand to several hundred pages and a best-selling book, a tipping point is that moment when there’s profound shift in attitude or action. For example, a pile of sand might be in a nice pyramidal shape, but the addition of one more handful can make it collapse – that’s the tipping point. In sports terms, when Jim Tracy took over as manager of the Colorado Rockies, that was the tipping point that turned the Rockies from a losing team to a playoff participant.

The WNBA has been around for 13 years now, and the general opinion of the league remained fairly constant for the first 12. Those inside the women’s basketball community were generally supportive (though there were some college fans who were unaccountably hostile to the whole idea) and some became rabid fans.

Outside of that small circle of friends, however, it was a different story. Though the 1996 Olympic team played the game at a very high level, the first editions of the ABL and WNBA were less than stellar basketball. Ironically, the initial success of the marketing arm of the WNBA managed to arouse the curiosity of many sports fans, but that curiosity was rewarded with some mighty bad basketball. Sadly, that first impression remained stuck in a lot of people’s minds for a long time and only lately has the tide begun to turn.

But even those who criticized the league found it hard to pinpoint what was missing, so there was a lot of loose talk about dunking. In reality, the biggest technical issue was ball-handling, but far more important was the simple lack of cohesion caused by the formation of a new league with new rules in new arenas with players and coaches who didn’t know each other and had no idea what was possible and what wasn’t.

It took several years for the league to settle in. Then, the infusion of talent from the ABL, though good for the league in the long run, upset the delicate equilibrium that had been established in the WNBA’s first two years, and so there was another period of adjustment. It didn’t help that the league expanded and contracted with regularity, which made it harder to achieve some kind of overall stability. Player and coach turnover, which is a constant in any professional league, was increased substantially by these changes, and made it that much harder for the league to establish a firm foundation.

But over time, the WNBA has found its niche. Its very existence increased the pool of talented athletes who chose basketball (a professional career was and is much more likely in basketball than in many other sports), and though the number of elite players has remained fairly constant, their supporting casts are much better players than they were when the league began. The coaching has improved dramatically as well, as owners have realized just what kind of background is likely to breed a successful WNBA coach, and the coaches themselves have figured exactly what the talent level is in the WNBA, and how best to take advantage of it.

It’s also helped that the supporters of the league no longer make fanciful pronouncements about the quality of play. Sheryl Swoopes once said the women’s Olympic team could make the Sweet 16 of the men’s tournament, which is about as likely as the best high school girls’ team beating the Phoenix Mercury. Now, players like Nicole Ohlde concede that they aren’t better than male college players, but they can more than hold their own against guys who played in high school.

At the same time, athletic dads with daughters have been exposed to the improving high school and summer basketball scene, and realize that girls can play basketball well – even if they can’t dunk and couldn’t beat most boys’ teams. It’s become more and more clear that what’s important is playing the game well, not how well women can play it as compared to men. Just as it’s possible to enjoy the NCAA men even though the best college team couldn’t come within 30 points of the worst NBA team, so more people realize that the women’s game can be appreciated for its own sake, at its own level, without the necessity of comparing it to the men’s game. (At the high school level, the higher level of play for girls has also helped; parents and students can’t help but notice that a good girls’ team is almost as fun to watch as a good boys’ team.)

So what we’ve noticed this summer is that the once common disdain for the women’s league – sometimes blatant and other times disguised with bland and generic pronouncements of support – has become less and less common. Male professional athletes have led the way, as their attendance at games of WNBA teams no longer under joint ownership implies a genuine enjoyment of the performances they are there to witness and their comments about the quality of the league ring with more and more sincerity. That attitude has wormed its way into the mainstream, and no longer is it fashionable to just rip on the WNBA for its several flaws. Instead, there’s grudging respect (especially from any pickup player who’s actually had to try and defend a WNBA player) and an acknowledgment that women’s basketball players are, like female golfers, pretty darn good at a pretty hard game.

This shift in attitude has manifested itself somewhat in the ratings for the WNBA playoffs, which, though still setting no records, are up significantly. More important, though, is that the ratings for the league, and for women’s college basketball, have been creeping slowly and steadily upward for most of this century.

It isn’t exactly a groundswell, and certainly not a landslide, but something has changed in the landscape of American sport – the WNBA still has its detractors, but no longer do they preach to the choir. Instead, they are on the other side of a tipping point that silently, subtly, passed them by.

 

 

 

Originally published Wed, October 14, 2009


Reader Discussion
Posted by calbearman October 16, 2009

I don’t see the tipping point. The TV ratings continue to be low, even though they improved slightly in the playoffs. For all the excitement of the finals there was still very little mainstream coverage. ESPN was showing the games so there was some coverage on SportsCenter but local TV and newspaper coverage was still minimal in my market. Indeed the detractors may not be as loud now because if the league doesn’t get covered there is no reason for the detractors to speak up.
I hope you are right, but for me a tipping point would come more in the way of three straight years without any franchise movement, regular season TV ratings of 0.5 or playoff ratings of 1.0. For now I will wait to see what happens to the proposed Tulsa franchise. If it becomes the fourteenth team next year that will be a positive.

Posted by calbearman October 16, 2009

I don’t see the tipping point. The TV ratings continue to be low, even though they improved slightly in the playoffs. For all the excitement of the finals there was still very little mainstream coverage. ESPN was showing the games so there was some coverage on SportsCenter but local TV and newspaper coverage was still minimal in my market. Indeed the detractors may not be as loud now because if the league doesn’t get covered there is no reason for the detractors to speak up.
I hope you are right, but for me a tipping point would come more in the way of three straight years without any franchise movement, regular season TV ratings of 0.5 or playoff ratings of 1.0. For now I will wait to see what happens to the proposed Tulsa franchise. If it becomes the fourteenth team next year that will be a positive.

Please Log in or, if you are not yet a member, Register to use the full features of this site.

Women's Basketball Calendar

April 2018
M T W T F S S
26 27 28 29 30 31 1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 1 2 3 4 5 6

Game of the Day

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Today's Top Games

For a full calendar and related details on upcoming nationally televised and Top 25 games, as well as past game scores, and other women's basketball games of interest, click on the link "Women's Basketball Calendar" above.

Search

Try Advanced Search

NCAA DIVISION I TOP 25 COACHES' POLL
WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Week: February 7, 2012
RANK SCHOOL RECORD LAST WEEK'S RANK PRESEASON RANK AP RANK POINTS
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
(61)
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
(70)
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
(38)
92
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
(18)
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
(13)
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
(23)
NR-RV
(19)
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
Ranking has risen since last week.
Ranking has dropped since last week.
Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.