The NCAA women’s basketball tournament began 37 years ago in 1982, and since then, just 15 teams have claimed national championships.
If you’ve ever followed women’s college basketball, you know who’s responsible for most of that dominance — UConn and Tennessee have 19 titles between them, and no other school has more than two.
But after back-to-back seasons in which Connecticut fell short of the national title game and Tennessee didn’t even sniff the Final Four, neither the Huskies nor the Lady Vols enter the 2018-2019 season as favorites to make their way back to the top of the women’s basketball world.
Throw in the fact that schools that have never won a title — like Oregon, Oregon State, Mississippi State and Louisville — have all become championship contenders, and there’s very early talk about more parity in the sport.
It’s talk South Carolina coach Dawn Staley embraces, and while the Gamecocks are now nationally recognized as an elite powerhouse, she told The State in an interview that she believes USC’s rise over the past decade is proof that parity is increasing.
That is a movement she sees as good for the game as a whole and one she wants to see continue — with one obvious caveat.
“I think there’s just more parity. High-level players are choosing different schools. We saw it firsthand here,” Staley said. “I think the fact that UConn isn’t the reigning champion for the past two years is a great thing for our game. A great thing. And all the UConn lovers, they have undefeated seasons, so they can continue to be happy in their space, but overall I think it’s great, and I hope the cycle never returns to a dynasty — unless it’s here.”
The last time Connecticut went two years without a title was in 2011-2012, and coach Geno Auriemma’s squad responded by reeling off four consecutive championships and 111 straight wins, so it’s too soon to say the era of UConn and Tennessee dominance is over. But if neither team wins the national championship in 2019, it would mark the longest stretch without either team winning a title since 1992-1994.
For Staley, the increase in parity is tied to an increase in exposure for the women’s game.
“When you’re exposed to something, you want more and more and more. It could be selfishly, you want more and more and more for yourself, you want to be a part of it as a little girl,” Staley said. “You want to be a pro. When I was a little girl, the only thing I saw on television, it was the Olympics and the national championship game. That was it. So that was my only exposure to women’s basketball, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish. Now you see college basketball on every day, you see the WNBA on TV, on social media, so the exposure’s there and now the talent’s caught up.”
Increased levels of talent have not only made the sport better than it has ever been, Staley said, they have led to a surplus of top-notch players who can and will go to schools that are not traditional powers.