Good day ladies and gents, and welcome back to the latest edition of The Triple Double! In this edition, we’re going to get down to the bottom of the complete lack of respect the San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team is getting and why 2020 is going to be a make or break year for the WNBA.
So let’s get it!
NO LOVE FOR AN AZTEC BREAKING HEARTS
As someone who was born and raised in San Diego (aka America’s Finest City), I’m used to having my sports teams break my heart. When the San Diego Chargers left town after 55 seasons, I severed all ties with them. The San Diego Padres for years have found the most creative ways to suck, but they are still my Padres.
But this year, our San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team has taken this county on their shoulders and said, “we will be your team”. We’re buzzing, we’re excited and for the first time in years, I can’t wait for the NCAA Tournament to start. With a 26-0 record, this is not only the longest undefeated streak in the school’s history but get this – they are the ONLY undefeated team left in the nation. Yet, there is a problem with this.
The Aztecs are the no. 4 ranked team in the nation. Sure, barring an unmitigated disaster in their last three games (UNLV, Colorado State and Nevada – who they’ve beaten by a combined 39 points) this could change but it doesn’t change the fact that as an undefeated team, they should be getting a little more love than being ranked fourth. The argument you can make is that the three teams ahead of them (Baylor, Gonzaga and Kansas) are more established and have more consistency year in year out. And I won’t argue that because it’s true.
However, this is 2020 and not every year is the same. Baylor (24-1), despite being the best team in men’s basketball, isn’t even the best team on their own campus (shout-out Kim Mulkey – who just became the fastest Division I coach in men’s or women’s basketball to reach 600 wins). Gonzaga (26-1) plays in an even more obscure conference than the Aztecs (SDSU plays in the Mountain West whereas Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference – where almost none of the games are televised) and despite having made every NCAA tournament since 1999, have only made it past the Elite Eight once (lost the title game in 2017).
And Kansas (22-3)…if you’ve been paying attention to news within the last year you can make the argument that their lack of institutional self-control should exclude them from the rankings.
San Diego State has beaten their opponents by an average margin of 17.2 points a game – more than Baylor (13.0) and Kansas (14.8). They are tied for third in scoring defense (58.2) and don’t turn the ball over often (26th in the nation with 281). They may not have the star power that those three teams have due to the lack of recognition (only two SDSU players have had sustained careers in the NBA – Michael Cage and Kawhi Leonard), but the trio of Jordan Schakel (10.1 ppg, 92.1 FT percentage, 43.4 3pt), Malachi Flynn (16.7 ppg, 5.2 apg) and Yanni Wetzell (12.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) has been more than enough to propel this team through this marathon.
If the Aztecs manage to finish the regular season undefeated and get through the conference tournament unscathed, then there should be no reason they don’t finish in the top three, if not number one overall.
WNBA LOOKS TO BREAK THE GLASS CEILING
If there was ever a year for the WNBA to show that it deserves more love in the press than it has gotten, 2020 is the year that they can (and need to) make it happen.
The statement above might seem a little dramatic to some, especially those who have women’s basketball running through their blood. But there is a lot at stake for the league if they are going to start proving they are worthy of people’s attention.
So far, they’ve gotten off to a huge start: agreeing to a new CBA that increases pay and gives the ladies benefits that they had not had prior to this year; expanding their schedule and providing a one-of-a-kind in-season tournament; and last but not least, the frenetic change of player movement this off-season. I have not seen this type of star power move in this league for as long as I have been covering it, with Angel McCoughtry (Las Vegas Aces), DeWanna Bonner (traded to the Connecticut Sun) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (traded to the Phoenix Mercury) all moving, which puts the balance of power all over the map.
With the added television exposure this season (five on ABC, close to 40 regular-season and playoff games on ESPN), the new-look teams will hopefully give more casual fans a reason to sit down and absorb the women’s game. However, if the 2019 Finals are any indication, there is still some work to be done in regards to making the games watchable from the opening jump of the regular season to the last basket of the Finals.
Another big problem that the league has, which new commissioner Cathy Englebert paid attention to, is how it is marketed to the public. In an interview with Yahoo Finance at the MAKERS conference last week, she pointed out how important it is that they change the perception of how women’s sports are presented.
“One of the things I noticed is we have a marketing problem,” Englebert stated. “We really need to step up our marketing dollars. In the collective bargaining agreement, we put forth substantial dollars in league and team marketing agreements so that now we can actually employ and pay our players to help us market the league…we don’t have the typical economic model through media and sponsorships that men’s leagues have.”
Englebert, a former college basketball player and the first female CEO at Deloitte, also pointed out how important it is for the WNBA as a business to expand their relationships to help further their exposure.
“It’s great to have a second career in sports and use all of those relationships because sports is big business, and big business is about relationships. So that part of my new job is very similar to my old job—furthering these relationships, tapping those relationships that I’ve built over time,” said Engelbert. “We’re going to change the way people look at women’s sports, especially women’s team sports, since less than 4% of all media covers women’s sports and less than 1% of all corporate sponsorship dollars globally go to women’s sports. So we’ve got to change those numbers and move those percentages up.”
This year is the first under Engelbert’s watch, so trust and believe there will be a lot of eyes watching to see how she guides the WNBA forward. That being said, with all the changes that the league has made already, 2020 will serve as the litmus test as to whether those changes will help or hinder the league going forward.
Before we finish, I’d like to send a shout-out to my brother and fellow Ball Out columnist RJ Saunders for his new column, the Off-Balanced J. I have a lot of respect for him as a writer and as a person and with this column he gets to truly get to show off his basketball knowledge (which admittedly, is a lot better than mine nowadays). I always feel like I learn something when I read his work, which inspires me to put more work into my writing.
Thank y’all very much for tuning into another edition of the Triple Double and we will see you in a couple of weeks!
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation’s Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women’s basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, “The Triple Double”. A self-described “foodaholic”, Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, “Conscious Cravings”, where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.