The ending of the Pat Summitt story was terribly sad.
Summitt, who had been battling Alzheimer’s for five years, died Tuesday morning at the age of 64. Her brilliant career, in which she helped raise the prominence of women’s basketball to unheard of levels, was cut short as she stepped down from coaching in 2012.
Earlier this year, her 25-year-old son Tyler resigned from his post as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Louisiana Tech due to a sex scandal. Tyler is said to have slept with one of his players, and he may have even gotten the player in question pregnant. If mom Summitt was still able to process such things, that’s a hell of a thing to be forced to think about in your waning days.
Summitt’s rivalry with UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma was outstanding. The hatred between the two was palpable and they would often spar through the media. It was strong Southern woman vs. brash Northeast man. It was Hillary vs. Trump before Hillary vs. Trump.
“If I ever spoke out like Geno is speaking out, my dad would probably take me behind the barn and get out the tobacco stick,” Summitt said in 2003 following an Auriemma anti-Tennessee rant.
On Tuesday, former Tennessee and UConn stars, as well as Auriemma, waxed poetically about “the good ol’ days” of women’s college basketball. Unfortunately, those days don’t seem to be coming back. Summitt exists this Earth at a time when the women’s game is trending in the absolute wrong direction.
TV ratings for the women’s college basketball tournament have plummeted in recent years. The national title game from this year was down 33.6 percent from two years ago and the first two rounds of the tournament garnered an average of 343,000 viewers (according to AwfulAnnouncing.com). ESPN didn’t even bother to send announcers to many of those games, opting to have them call the games from a studio instead of paying travel costs.
In addition, the WNBA has remarkably ugly attendance figures (Phoenix LED the league in attendance last year with an average of 9,946 fans per game) and painfully poor TV ratings. The HIGHEST rated WNBA game last year drew a 0.3 TV rating (average of 505,000 viewers). For reference, the recent Copa America men’s soccer tournament was getting ratings in the 2.0s. The NBA Finals routinely gets 11.0 ratings (28 million viewers). Even pro wrestling routinely gets a 3.0 weekly rating.
The sport of women’s basketball is in a bad place. It’s truly a shame that Pat Summitt isn’t around anymore to help save it.