SPORTS

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February 18, 2011

Giving respect where it’s due

Women’s basketball has finally has gotten the respect it deserves—although not from the student body. After weeks of being ranked behind Wash U in the D3hoops.com national poll, the Maroons are now ranked seventh in the country. Yet around campus there seems to be a lack of acknowledgement that there is a powerhouse basketball team right here at Chicago. 775 people showed up to Beach Night to watch Chicago take on Rochester, drawn by the allure of free Hawaiian-style pizza. Just two weeks later, when the Maroons returned to Ratner riding a nine-game winning streak and ranked 13th in the country, only 345 people showed up. Pizza, and not the team, seemed to be the attraction.

The average attendance at a Chicago women’s basketball game is only 304, and that includes the legions of parents that drive in from places all over the Midwest. By contrast, the average attendance at a Wash U game is 444, almost 50 percent more than a Chicago game. The undergraduate populations are roughly the same.

That’s the same Wash U team that now sits two games behind Chicago with only three to go. A win in either game this weekend ensures Chicago the UAA title and earns them an automatic berth in the NCAA national tournament. A win in Friday’s game against Brandeis extends their winning streak to a remarkable 16 games, tying the longest winning streak in University history since 1996.

There is often a lot of joking around on campus about the quality of our sports teams. But this time around, we actually do have a team that has a legitimate shot at challenging for a national title, and not just this year—all five of our starters, as well as several key reserves, are returning next year. Maybe we’re not at a D-I institution with ESPN coverage or a long heritage of basketball success, but a culture has to start somewhere, and what better time than now, with our team playing at a higher level than we’ve seen in years? Since head coach Aaron Roussell got here seven seasons ago, the Maroons have won 70 percent of their games. That sounds like a team worth getting behind.

One problem seems simply to be sexism. The men’s team is not playing anywhere close to the level of the women’s team. The men are 5—6 in the UAA and haven’t won more than two games in a row this year. And yet, attendance at men’s games is almost 25 percent higher than the attendance at women’s games.

Yes, men’s basketball is more explosive. But ultimately, watching our women’s team play such fundamentally sound basketball is much more entertaining to fans who actually want to watch basketball, and not just a bunch of athletes running up and down the court. Our women’s team decimates opponents because every player understands her role on the court. When one player is having an off day, the next player steps up, and when it all comes together the finished product is great Friday night entertainment.

So what if the game starts at six? Grab an early dinner and make your way to Ratner. This team is worth it.

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