One of those coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, has gotten the brunt of the attention, but it’s actually on the women’s side of the game where match-up of coach titans takes place.
Stanford Cardinal’s Tara VanDerveer takes on the Connecticut Huskies’ Geno Auriemma. These two coaches lead their team in a sport that I’m not sure many people understand is quite popular and has actually become statistically more exciting over the last decade.
If it is not already clear, VanDerveer and Auriemma are historically good. VanDerveer has trained at the collegiate level for over 40 years and has 1,157 victories to show for it. She has only lost 258 matches, meaning her team has won almost 82% of the matches she has trained.
The 68-year-old VanDerveer has been good across eras. Her first two titles with Stanford came in the early 1990s – and her third came just last year.
Auriemma, who turned 68 last month, has slightly fewer wins (1,148), but he has undoubtedly been even better than VanDerveer. He has only lost 149 games over 37 seasons, which means he has won almost 89% of the time! Auriemma’s team has also won a record 11 NCAA women’s tournaments.
And like VanDerveer, Auriemma has been pretty consistent. His first Husky team to win a title did so in 1995, while his last title was in 2016.
Some may not recognize the greatness of VanDerveer or Auriemma because women’s sports are not traditionally given the same recognition in some circles as men’s.
The NCAA, for its part, has in the past been called out for differences in how the facilities it provides its men versus female players at NCAA tournaments. It was not until this year that the NCAA even tagged the women’s tournament named “March Madness,” a move the organization had previously opposed.
Still, it is important to note that there are many fans who have seen how good VanDerveer and Auriemma are. Last year, over four million people lined up to see VanDerveer win his third title as head coach. It was the highest-rated NCAA women’s title game since 2014.
In fact, in an era where many shows – except the NFL – have seen some shrinkage in their audiences, women’s college basketball has retained its viewership. The grades last year were higher than the championship 20 years before that.
Also keep in mind that this game was broadcast on cable, which means it had a smaller pool of potential audiences. The 2021 Women’s Championship was by far the highest rated cable program that night, and it easily doubled MLB’s game of the week, which was held that night.
The Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship got more viewers than any of the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup games, which aired partly on cable and partly on network television. It had only slightly smaller ratings than professional baseball semifinals: the league championship series.
Perhaps part of the reason why women’s college games have stood strong, even though fewer people have cable, is that the product has become more unpredictable. People are statistically more likely to tune into a game where the winner cannot be easily predicted.
I spoke with FiveThirtyEights Neil Paine about this phenomenon. FiveThirtyEight has a statistic known as Elo, which essentially judges how good a team is, and then based on Elo, how much a team should be favored over another team in a game.
What the Elo data reveals is that the average favorite in NCAA women’s tournament play has been favored by less now than at any point over the past decade. Another way of looking at it is that the teams themselves have become more equal.
This is remarkable because a long-standing criticism of the women’s tournament is that the top teams are so much better than the other teams that it removes the “madness” of the now branded. March Madness tournament.
Compare the women’s side with what’s going on in the men’s. The favorites in the men’s tournament are actually favored more than they have traditionally been in an average of data back to 2010. In other words, the games are more predictable.
Speaking of less predictable games, just look at Stanford and Connecticut. According to FiveThirtyEight, Stanford has a 56% chance of winning the game. Connecticut is close by with 44%.
It should be a good game, and it’s definitely hard to predict. Either way, viewers win.