Monday, January 30, 2006

Pat Summitt: The Greatest?

Let me get one thing clear right out of the gate: Pat Summitt is the greatest women's coach of all time. There isn't even a legitimate argument to be made for anyone else.

But does she deserve to be compared to the great names in men's college basketball history? Of course not. Ever since Summitt won her 900th game last week, ESPN has been on a mission to point out how she has won more games than Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, and Bobby Knight.

ESPN should be ashamed of themselves for even making such a comparison. To somehow equate men's basketball with women's hoops is ludicrous. The only thing they really have in common is that they play roughly the same amount of games during the year. But because everyone needs to feel warm and fuzzy about themselves, Summitt always ends up on lists of "greatest coaches."

Put simply, it is much easier to dominate a field in which there is such a shallow pool of talent. Whether you think it's good or bad, the bottom line is that few girls play basketball, and even fewer ascend to the level of Division I ability. So many more boys play basketball, there's enough talent to stock virtually all 300+ Division I teams, while teams like Tennessee and Connecticut can parlay their past successes to horde pretty much all the worthwhile talent in the country.

Summit racked up a lot of her wins when women's basketball was a complete afterthought in intercollegiate athletics. In fact, the only reason it isn't now is that federal law prohibits it. Many schools didn't even have teams when she was rolling through her schedule, and playing basketball wasn't exactly an attractive option for little girls growing up.

Now you may argue that there are a number of men's teams that are usually near the top of the polls. But let's take Duke for instance - a program that is second to none in success over the past 20 years. Duke has won one national championship in the last 13 years (in 2001: they won two consecutive in 1991 and 1992).

By comparison, Tennessee went one twelve year stretch where they won six national championships. Connecticut has won four in the last five years. Aside from UCLA's dominant men's teams of the 60's, those are runs that would be unheard of in men's basketball today.

That's not to say Summitt's 900 wins, or even Texas' Jody Conradt's 800 wins, isn't immensely impressive. But let's not let get crazy with political correctness. Just go down to any high school or college gym and see how many boys are playing pickup basketball and compare that to how many girls are playing. That should tell you all you need to know.