Men’s or Women’s NCAA basketball championship, which is more compelling?

UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier (l) and his head coach Kevin Ollie (r) hope to continue the school's winning tradition on Monday night.

UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier (l) and his head coach Kevin Ollie (r) hope to continue the school’s winning tradition on Monday night.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

On Monday night the Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Connecticut Huskies in the Men’s National Championship. On Tuesday night the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will challenge the Connecticut Lady Huskies in the Women’s National Championship. Both games have intriguing stories that are sure to make the matchups entertaining.

The Kentucky Wildcats freshman Julius Randle (l) and Aaron Harrison (r) will attempt to lead  the school to their second title in 3 years.

The Kentucky Wildcats freshman Julius Randle (l) and Aaron Harrison (r) will attempt to lead the school to their second title in 3 years.

The men’s championship features two schools that have been very successful over the past fifteen years, yet neither team made the NCAA tournament last year. Kentucky features five freshmen, led by forward Julius Randle and guard Aaron Harrison. Harrison has become known for his late game heroics in this tournament. When asked about his confidence late in games he expressed, “You can’t be scared to miss…you want to be the guy that makes all the big shots.”

Connecticut is led by senior guard Shabazz Napier, a member of the 2011 National Championship team which was led by current Bobcat Kemba Walker. Napier displayed confidence in his team as he proclaimed, “We believe in each other and continue to believe…we are going to win. That is what we do.” On the sidelines, Kentucky’s coach John Calipari will be seeking his second national title in three attempts. Meanwhile, Kevin Ollie is in only his second season as a head coach and is already demonstrating his ability to lead the Huskies through difficult situations.

Notre Dame's senior guard Kayla McBride (c) attempts to lead her school to their second ever national title on Tuesday night.

Notre Dame’s senior guard Kayla McBride (c) attempts to lead her school to their second ever national title on Tuesday night.

The women’s championship features two schools that have been among the best over the past several years. Notre Dame gained national exposure when it was led over previous years by Skylar Diggins. However, this year’s team was led by recently injured senior forward Natalie Achonwa and senior guard Kayla McBride. Both players have been members of Notre Dame teams that have defeated UConn several times over the past few season but not in the NCAA tournament. UConn is looking to repeat as champions and win a record ninth national title. Led by junior forward Breanna Stewart, the Lady Huskies are likely to be favored to win as they have championship experience and their main contributors are healthy.

Breanna Stewart will be leaned heavily upon to lead UConn to their record ninth national championship.

Breanna Stewart will be leaned heavily upon to lead UConn to their record ninth national championship.

The University of Connecticut is looking to make history as they can achieve a feat only once completed before (in 2004) in having both the men’s and women’s team win the national title in the same year. Both teams are aware of their unique opportunity. As Lady Huskies guard Bria Hartley describes, “Our men are excited for us and we’re doing the same for them…both teams worked hard this year.” Interestingly, the University of Louisville had a chance to accomplish this feat last year but was unsuccessful. Yet another intriguing reason to watch both national championship games.–OnPointPress.net

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and a management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on Twitter.com.

Women’s team sports still face popularity and financial challenges in the U.S.

The 2013 Women's UConn Huskies got a chance to meet President Obama after winning the NCAA championship last year.

The 2013 Women’s UConn Huskies got a chance to meet President Obama after winning the NCAA championship last year.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

On Monday, March 31, 2014, the women’s University of Connecticut Huskies and Notre Dame Fighting Irish will continue their individual pursuit for perfection this basketball season. With the women’s NCAA tournament underway, both UConn and Notre Dame need two more victories to setup an unprecedented showdown between two unbeaten teams for the national championship. UConn is hoping to repeat as national champions while Notre Dame is hoping to finally reach the zenith in their sport. As phenomenal an event this would be to watch, this potential outcome has generated very little buzz.

Lusia Harris was a groundbreaker in women's sports as college basketball player, Olympian, and NBA draft pick..

Lusia Harris was a groundbreaker in women’s sports as college basketball player, Olympian, and NBA draft pick..

Women’s collegiate sports has seen tremendous advances since the passing of Title IX in 1972 – the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal assistance. In the wake of the recent ruling that allows for Northwestern football players to unionize, it is helpful to remember the struggles that female college athletes have faced when trying to earn fair opportunities.

In women’s team sports, there have been fewer stars with sustaining power when compared to male team sports. There was momentum building in the mid 1970’s with interest in women’s basketball due to Lusia Harris from Delta State University in Mississippi. She helped bring the sport to the forefront with a silver medal finish in the first ever women’s basketball tournament in the Olympics in 1976. The president at Delta State would later decree a Lusia Harris Day by describing Harris as a “basketball star, world traveler, Olympic medalist, and All-American.” Harris would continue to make history as being the first and only woman officially selected in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft by the New Orleans Jazz in 1977. She never played in the NBA but her Olympic exploits helped propel women’s basketball into the next decade.

Nancy Lieberman had exceptional success as a college player, a professional player in multiple leagues, and as a coach.

Nancy Lieberman had exceptional success as a college player, a professional player in multiple leagues, and as a coach.

In the years following Harris there were two women’s college basketball players who gained major interest and excitement, Nancy Lieberman and Cheryl Miller. Lieberman earned the nickname “Lady Magic” as a reference to playing like Earvin “Magic” Johnson. She led her Old Dominion Monarchs to the national championship in 1979 and 1980. Miller, older sister of NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, was the first to make the family name famous while dominating at the University of Southern California.

Hall of Fame player Cheryl Miller was a transcendent player in the 1980's.

Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller was a transcendent basketball player in the 1980’s, who is described in admiring tones by current players.

“That’s something you’d remember forever,” remarked her high school basketball coach, Floyd Evans, as he reflected on the night she scored 105 points in a single game in her senior year.

The NCAA decided to sponsor the women’s basketball tournament in 1982. Miller led the Trojans to the NCAA championship in 1983 and 1984 while being named tournament MVP in both years. Miller also led the U.S. women’s team to the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. Miller was so dominant in her run at USC that the school retired her #31 jersey in 1986, becoming the first basketball player, male or female, to receive such an honor from USC at that time.

Sheryl Swoopes (l), Lisa Leslie (c), and Rebecca Lobo (r) were part of the inaugural class of the WNBA.

Sheryl Swoopes (l), Lisa Leslie (c), and Rebecca Lobo (r) were part of the inaugural class of the WNBA.

The struggle women’s team sports has had in sustaining popularity for their players who became popular in college is that there were few professional women’s league that had long time sustainability. Things changed in 1996 when the NBA financially supported the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBA). Since its inception, the WNBA has had several women transition from college basketball recognition to WNBA stardom. Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, and Skylar Diggins represent some of the biggest names to enter the WNBA since 1996.

Julie Foudy (l), Mia Hamm (c), and Kristine Lilly (r) were part of a dominant stretch in women's soccer that included 2 World Cup titles and multiple Olympic gold medals.

Julie Foudy (l), Mia Hamm (c), and Kristine Lilly (r) were part of a dominant stretch in women’s soccer that included 2 World Cup titles and multiple Olympic gold medals.

While women’s basketball continues to have a professional league, it is not the only team sport women have excelled in. The U.S. women’s soccer team has been a powerful force in team sports, gaining immense success since the early 1990’s. They won the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and won again in 1999. Also, they won the Olympic gold medal at all but one of the summer games since 1996. Those teams were led by Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, and Mia Hamm. Hamm would become one of the biggest soccer stars in the sport. Donna de Varona, chair of the 1999 Women’s World Cup Organization Committee described the period:

“You saw 90,000 people packed in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California…fathers, daughters, families…cheering on these great players.”

Hope Solo's status as one of the most popular soccer players earns her a higher salary than her average contemporaries.

Hope Solo’s status as one of the most popular soccer players earns her a higher salary than her average contemporaries.

While the achievement gap between men and women has closed when it comes to performance in team sports, the gap between financial reward remains far apart. Women’s team sports still struggles to attract the fan base that can bring advertising dollars to their sports. It is clear that the distinction between individual and team sports for women changes the earning potential. For example, the average salary for the U.S. National Women’s Team (Soccer) is $25,000 a year whereas MLS salaries start at $32,000 per year for the men and often rises to the millions.

2013 WNBA MVP Candace Parker is one of the highest earning players in her sport, but her salary pales in comparison to her male counterparts.

2013 WNBA MVP Candace Parker is one of the highest earning players in her sport, but her salary pales in comparison to her male counterparts.

A more extreme example comes in recognizing that the maximum paid salary in the WNBA is $107,000 per year compared to the $30 million Kobe Bryant earned this season in the NBA. There is no doubt that these women are as exceptional in their profession as their male counterparts are in theirs. Hopefully, in the near future, women’s team sports will receive the proper recognition and see their revenue grow to a level that allows for most female athletes to live comfortably in team sports.–OnPointPress.net–

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on Twitter.com.