It’s a shame that hoops snobs and some provincial Gopher fans who see everything through maroon and gold eyes can’t accept the fact that this year’s Minnesota women’s basketball team got in the right tournament — the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
The WNIT is no slouch. Minnesota is one of six Big Ten teams in this year’s 64-team field, and it’s not a second-class step-down as some would suggest. It’s not the NCAA, but if you don’t qualify, which the Gophers didn’t this year, then getting into the WNIT is the next best thing.
Thirty-two WNIT spots go to “automatic qualifiers” (teams with the highest regular-season finish in their conference that are not in the NCAAs). By virtue of its fifth-place finish, the U of M got one of those AQ spots.
One great player — even as prolific a scorer as Rachel Banham — doesn’t get you in the big tournament, as some locals foolishly thought and wished. But when the almighty Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a statistical tool used by the NCAA selection folk to determine a team’s strength of schedule, shows your team’s schedule wasn’t up to snuff — the Gophers’ RPI this season was 81 — that’s like getting a single-digit score on a college entrance exam and expecting to get into Harvard.
Ohio State (six), Maryland (eight), Michigan State (17), Indiana (46) and Purdue (66), in comparison, had higher RPIs and made the NCAAs.
The hoop snobs, who include many sports media types, can’t fathom anything else but the mammoth NCAA: “There is so much hype around the NCAA tournament,” notes Minnesota Interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz.
The WNIT began last week and will crown its champion April 2. Since 1998, it is the longest running post-season tournament in women’s college basketball next to the NCAA, which began only a decade earlier in 1982.
“These athletes would give anything for five more minutes…on the court,” continues Goetz. “The 64 teams in the WNIT are cherishing every second, though. They are still competing and trying to get better. I think it is important.”
As a result, the Gopher women, who won more games and played deeper into March than their male counterparts, get “the chance to continue their season,” says the WNIT fact sheet. “One of the WNIT’s goals is to help teams build their programs with their community, and WNIT games can be a great vehicle for getting a new fan base engaged in women’s college basketball.”
However, according to Goetz, hosting WNIT games isn’t profitable. “You have to cover expenses. It’s not revenue generating,” she points out.
It’s insulting to the players, whether they are Gophers, (Milwaukee) Panthers, or (South Dakota) Coyotes (the U of M’s first two WNIT opponents) telling them they’re in a step-down event. But the hoops snobs don’t mind rubbing the players’ noses in it while turning up theirs like Pepe Le Pew’s love interest who runs away from him mainly because he’s a skunk.
Sophomore gymnast Ciara Gardner was among 13 gymnasts named to the All-Big Ten second team. She was featured earlier this year in our Gopher 100 series.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.