Eastern Women Cagers Looking for Respect

Aretha Franklin would sympathize.

Women's basketball in the Northeast suffers from a profound lack of respect. Regardless of some teams with high won-loss records and impeccable regular-season play, squads in the Northeast rarely land a bid in a post-season tournament.

For example, the Harvard women's basketball team jumped up to the top of the Ivy League with a 21-5 record last year and yet did not place into the NCAA or the NWIT tournament. Harvard Coach Kathy Delaney Smith tries to explain the injustice.

"Certain areas of the country are strong in all levels of women's basketball, from high school to Junior Olympics to college, like the South and like California. They take pride in recruiting from their own area."

Recently, the Northeast has been minus this pride. The frequency of coaches switching programs and leaving players in limbo has made its mark.


"In the last five to ten years with the coaching changes," Delaney Smith said, "the strategy has not been to keep the players in the area. That since has changed. With coaching longevity, there have been efforts to keep strong players at home."

Far from changing is the lack of media coverage and publicity for women's basketball.

"There's not enough space in the newspaper for women's basketball here, so even though we are strong, we are not shown," said Delaney Smith.

The weakness of the non-league schedule of northeastern teams also holds them back. Whether or not the teams play a top-20 team is a big factor in the tournament selection process.

But now, with fewer Ivy League teams rebuilding, the coaches can afford to make the schedules more challenging. The NWIT representatives stressed that reason to Delaney Smith--explaining why Harvard, which she considered to be one of the top 50 teams in the country last year, did not receive a bid.

Let Me In

Another surprise rejection by the NCAA Tournament Committee last year was the University of Maine. The new coach, Trish Roberts, searches for the missing link in the team's last season.

"Looking back, we had a really good record (23-6)," Roberts said, "and what they look for is whether you won the Seaboard Conference, your win-loss column and the strength of your scheduling."

The winners of most of the Division I conferences in the country receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The teams in the Seaboard aren't so lucky.

"Try to establish your conference to get an automatic bid to the NCAA's," said Roberts.

The Three C's

Coach Delaney Smith's three-commitment plan should help the prognosis for the Ivy League.

"We are already in the process of correcting, with the commitment of coaches to stay in the programs, the commitment of the Universities to keep the coaches and the commitment of the league to improve our schedules," said Delaney Smith. "The last change will come in the media. I think it will come, but I don't know when."

So, until that time, women's basketball teams in the Northeast are joining Aretha Franklin and her search for r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

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