Women’s basketball deserves more media exposure

Getty Images File PhotoStanford's Chiney Ogwumike was able to takedown Brittney Griner of Baylor during the National Semifinal game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship at Pepsi Center in Denver.

Before I sat down to watch the 49ers-Rams game on Sunday, I scrolled down to the Pac-12 Network to record the Cal-Duke women’s basketball game. The network prides itself on covering everything from soccer, to volleyball, to wrestling; surely they’d televise this compelling matchup between two Top 10 teams.

No luck.

This was particularly frustrating because it was the second time in less than three weeks that I’ve gone out of my way to watch college women’s basketball and I was stood up both times.

The first was on Nov. 16 when Stanford and Baylor connected in Hawaii for a rematch of last season’s national semifinal. At the time, Stanford was ranked fourth in the nation and Baylor, of course, was No. 1 having won 42 straight contests, including last season’s national championship game.

The Cardinal was an even bigger underdog this year. Taking down Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims without Nneka Ogwumike seemed highly improbable to anyone outside of Tara VanDerveer’s locker room.

But Stanford did the unthinkable, knocking out Sonny Liston. Unfortunately, the only witnesses were the fans in the arena. ESPN didn’t televise the game and the Bay Area didn’t have a single reporter on hand to chronicle the historic win.     

Granted, if the game wasn’t played halfway across the Pacific Ocean, this wouldn’t have been the case. Covering a game in Hawaii isn’t cheap and the ninth game of a long-winded NBA season will still smother women’s basketball in the ratings.

But women’s hoops needed this game to be aired. Griner is one of those transcendent sports figures, like Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Lance Armstrong (pre-scandal), who can bring a sport out of the fringes and into the mainstream.

At 6-foot-8, she could do for women’s basketball what Wilt Chamberlin did for the NBA five decades ago. She draws intrigue because people are attracted to geniuses in every realm and in sports we want to see if they can be beaten.

This year’s Stanford-Baylor game could have been a watershed moment: you get pulled in by a compelling upset, you realize there’s more to the sport than Griner and you stay tuned because you want to see how the drama concludes.

Here’s my confession: until two years ago, I had no interest in women’s basketball, in fact, my dismissive attitude toward it was inadvertently sexist.

But my curiosity was roused when UConn strung together 90 straight wins and was finally beaten by Stanford right in my backyard.

Last year’s overtime bout between Stanford and Cal was probably the most exciting basketball game I attended all season. The action was fast-paced, the women played with heart and I walked out of Maples Pavilion craving more.

It didn’t hurt that the Bay Area’s most creative point guard, Brittany Boyd, plays for Cal — no offense, Stephen Curry. If you haven’t seen Boyd in action yet, make sure you swing by Haas Pavilion this year. She’s dynamic, fun-hearted and she plays the game with an infectious passion. I was looking forward to watching her go toe-to-toe with Duke’s Chelsea Gray, who earned All-America honors last year as a sophomore, but as I mentioned earlier, the game wasn’t televised.

It’s hardly a deathblow to the sport that these games weren’t aired, just a missed opportunity. The season is young and more than a hundred games will be televised. But David doesn’t slay Goliath every day.

Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at paul.gackle@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @PGackle.

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