Former coach says UConn has 'outsized' influence on sport

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma gestures during a  game against Oklahoma in Uncasville. At right, former Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw yells to players during a game against Boston College in South Bend.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma gestures during a game against Oklahoma in Uncasville. At right, former Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw yells to players during a game against Boston College in South Bend.

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma slams former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw for comments on UConn’s ‘outsized’ influence in sport Alexa Philippou Hartford Courant (TNS)

The Geno Auriemma-Muffet McGraw rivalry may be over on the court, but that didn’t stop the two legendary coaches from trading jabs.

McGraw, who coached at Notre Dame from 1987 until her 2020 retirement, criticized what she views as UConn’s “outsized” influence in the sport — from media coverage to recruiting rankings to Olympic team representation to national player of the year nominations — in a recent episode of the “Off the Looking Glass” podcast hosted by Kate Fagan and Jessica Smetana.

Asked about McGraw’s comments Monday, Auriemma didn’t hold back.

“I guess Muffet’s bored,” Auriemma told Bob Joyce on the “UConn WBB Coaches Show” on Monday. “I guess she didn’t have a whole lot to talk about. And usually when she was coaching when she did talk, nobody listened anyway, so I guess you figure she’s got a platform now.”

McGraw and Auriemma have a long history of public acrimony toward each other after battling in the Big East and for national titles for two decades. Before the last few weeks, things had simmered down since McGraw’s retirement following the 2019-20 season, though Auriemma was cordial and a bit nostalgic upon her announcement.

That changed with McGraw’s podcast appearance last week, when she was asked by Fagan about UConn’s influence in the sport. One of McGraw’s main criticisms was that there’s a “bias in the media,” specifically ESPN, in how UConn is covered.

“I think it goes over the top with ESPN,” said McGraw, who is also an analyst with the ESPN-owned ACC Network. “That is Connecticut’s network. Notre Dame has NBC. Connecticut has ESPN. That is absolutely complete bias there.”

“I don’t think the bias has anything to do with where ESPN is located [Bristol, Conn.], or where UConn is located,” Auriemma responded. “I think the bias has something to do with — if there is any — the 11 national championships, which is a lot more than two [how many Notre Dame has]. And last I checked, at least I remember that on “Sesame Street,” 11 is a lot more than two.”

Since UConn departed the American Athletic Conference, where it was for seven years, for the Big East, its television broadcast rights have been owned by Fox Sports. Fox and SNY cut a deal so that SNY carries 18 games a season, making it the primary home of UConn women’s basketball.

The Huskies have six games in all set to air on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC by the end of the regular season, all of which are games at SEC schools (ESPN owns the SEC’s broadcast rights) or are part of neutral-site showcases/tournaments.

“Notre Dame has their own network,” Auriemma said. “Our network is SNY. So I don’t know why anybody would think that ESPN is our network. ... I’m just glad we don’t go 30 years between winning championships [Notre Dame went 18 years without one]. Maybe NBC ought to help them a little more.”

McGraw also alleged that Auriemma “controls who makes the [U.S. Olympic] team and who doesn’t,” pointing to recent comments from Candace Parker where she said she believes she was left off the 2016 Olympic team because Auriemma didn’t like her.

Auriemma was the U.S. national team coach from 2009-2016, including the squad’s gold medal runs in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and served as a member of the five-person selection committee for the 2020 squad, where UConn had five members.

Following the controversy over Parker’s omission in 2016, some felt that 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike was snubbed this cycle.

McGraw also said there’s “an incredible bias with [UConn] players,” saying that recruits who commit to UConn get a bump in their ranking and that more UConn players end up on watch lists for national player of the year than deserved.

“They have four [player of the year] candidates,” McGraw said, referring to how four Huskies made the 50-person Naismith Trophy preseason watch list. “If you saw their game after they lost Paige [Bueckers], you have to wonder, ‘Do they really have three other player of the year candidates?’ But I think there’s such a bias in the media that they just go that way.”

Auriemma didn’t take up any of those points, centering his response on media coverage and the attention UConn attracts, which he painted as a result of the program’s unprecedented success in the sport more than anything else.

He compared the accusations of bias or over-influence to other sports dynasties, like Duke men’s basketball, the Dallas Cowboys and Alabama football: “When you tend to win a lot, people want to watch you play a lot. “If people didn’t want to watch us on television, I’m sure they wouldn’t put us on. If we didn’t generate the ratings, I’m sure people wouldn’t have us on.

“I do want to thank the people at ESPN for helping us win those 111 [wins] in a row [referring to the Huskies’ streak from 2014-2017]. I mean, if it wasn’t for them, there’s no way that we could have done it. So hopefully there’s some people over there that can take some credit for that. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”

McGraw didn’t shy away from speaking to UConn’s success. Head-to-head, UConn is 39-13 in the series against the Irish, although Notre Dame was 5-3 against the Huskies in the Final Four. UConn beat Notre Dame twice in national championship games (2014 and 2015), while Notre Dame won its pair (in 2001 and 2019) by getting by the Huskies in the national semifinals.

In addition to their 11 national titles, the Huskies have been to 13-straight Final Fours — more than any other school has overall aside from Tennessee and Stanford — and 21 in all, three more than next-best Tennessee.

“UConn has done great things, and they’ve won way more than anybody else, except Tennessee [Tennessee has won eight titles to UConn’s 11],” McGraw said. “What they’ve done has been amazing. I think people measure their team by them. When we joined the Big East, we were like, ‘We want to get to where they are. That’s what we want to be. We’re trying to emulate them.’”

“Who knows why Muffet wants to talk about this stuff. I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’ve never understood it,” Auriemma said. “I mean, she did make a good point. We certainly have done some great things here. We won a lot, and she did say we won more than anybody except Tennessee, which again, I think she missed “Sesame Street” growing up: 11 is more than eight. So I just think she’s a little bit lonely and wants to talk to somebody and found the outlet and decided to talk about UConn basketball, and that’s that.”

This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Former coach says UConn has 'outsized' influence on sport