In my brief time writing about Cal women’s hoops I’ve discovered that there’s a pretty decent amount of fans out there following Cal women’s basketball on one level or another. Nevertheless it’s obvious that women’s basketball just doesn’t have the same built in audience for football or men’s basketball, and the sport is constantly trying to sell itself to a wider audience. So before the season starts against Rutgers on November 12th, here’s my pitch for why you should make the effort to closely follow the Bears this year if you have never done so in the past.
1. They’re already good and getting better
Last year the Cal women won the WNIT. Now, to the uninformed that may not sound like much. People don’t usually get excited for the 65th best team in the country. But when you consider that Cal had only three significant contributors returning and started four(!) freshmen for the majority of the year, a WNIT title means more. Cal has had impressive, elite back to back recruiting classes and the court will be full of big-time, exciting talent. Watching that talent develop and coalesce last year was a real pleasure, and I can’t wait to see more this year from the returning sophomores and four incoming freshmen.
2. It’s cheap and easy to follow
If you want to attend games you can pay 10 dollars and get good seats, or you can pay 12 dollars and get GREAT seats – the kind you have to donate major $$$ to get for men’s basketball. And if you’re really cheap, the athletic department streams every home game for free on the official website. Plus, for the first time, each game will be carried on the radio, and there are a number of games on TV with more likely to be added. In the past you could complain that it was too hard to follow the women’s team because options for watching and listening to the game weren’t available, but that’s just not the case anymore.
3. It’s not Cal football
Don’t get me wrong, I love our football team and I wouldn’t trade fall Saturdays at Memorial Stadium for anything. But there’s something to be said for enjoying a collegiate event without all of the overwrought anxiety and over-the-top angst that has consumed the football team and our fan base over the last few years. I can watch a women’s basketball game without knowing that a loss will result in a week of mind numbing second guessing of coaches and players complete with fretting over donors, half-baked calls for coach firings, annoying columns from local and national media and everything else that goes along with Cal football these days. For me, women’s basketball has become everything that’s fun about college sports with none of the annoying negative externalities.
4. An exciting conference race
For a long time the Pac-10 has failed to gain much respect nationally because Stanford has so completely dominated the league. But I think that’s about to change. Cal and Arizona St. have been consistently above-average performers over the last 4-5 years, and it appears that UCLA and USC are likely to join that group, making the Pac-10 deeper than ever. UCLA hired a new coach that immediately revived a moribund program, and USC finally started getting healthy and reaping the results of good recruiting. The result is a league that is at least 5 deep, with other intriguing teams like Paul Westhead’s run and gun Oregon Ducks. On any given night you’re likely to see an intriguing matchup of talented, well-coached teams with serious post-season aspirations.
5. They work hard to keep their fans happy
Last year Cal played one of their worst games of the year at home against UCLA. The Bruin defense stifled Cal’s attack for 40 minutes and the Bears couldn’t sink a shot to save their lives. It was a painful performance that was hard to watch. 15 minutes after the game the entire team returned to the court to sign autographs and hang out with Cal fans, something they did after every Saturday home game. I didn’t go down to the court after the UCLA game, but I did after an exciting win over Oregon and was greeted with smiles and thank yous from a team that genuinely appreciated my attendance.
If you have kids, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Your kids get in for just a dollar, can make their own signs with materials provided for free at the game or grab some balloons that get passed out. Long story short, the team and the athletic department have done a great job putting on a fun, friendly product and I fully anticipate that 2010-11 will be no different.
You'll also notice the various youtube videos I've added to this post. They were all made last season to promote the basketball team and help you get to know the players you're following all season. It's a nice touch that makes it easier to emotionally invest in the team. It's way more fun to root for Gennifer Brandon and Rama N'diaye than it is to root for #22 and #25.
Comment starters: If you already follow the Cal women, what about it do you particularly enjoy? And if you haven't followed them in the past, are you planning to start? There’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon!