Geno Auriemma went on a sarcastic rant Monday night on the UConn WBB Coaches Show in response to pre-Christmas comments from a longtime coaching rival.
As a refresher, former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw accused ESPN of pro-UConn bias, citing the Bristol connection despite the fact that most of UConn’s games air on SNY.
“UConn has done great things, and they’ve won way more than anybody else, except Tennessee. 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,’” McGraw said.
“But I think it goes over the top with ESPN. That is Connecticut’s network. Notre Dame has NBC, Connecticut has ESPN. That is absolutely complete bias there.”
…”I think there’s an incredible bias with their players. If you recruit a kid and she’s ranked 35th in the country and she signs with UConn, the next time the poll comes out, she’s 18th.”
McGraw is actually now an ACC Network analyst, too, which falls under the ESPN umbrella. Obviously McGraw probably isn’t that worried about repercussions given her stature in the sport, but it was still fascinating to see someone on the inside make claims like this.
Last night, though, Auriemma was in no mood to entertain them, going full scorched earth on the claims and even suggesting that McGraw isn’t worth listening to. Mechelle Voepel wrote it up for ESPN.com; as with her original story on McGraw, it’s quite even-handed.
“I guess Muffet’s bored,” Auriemma told show host Bob Joyce. “I guess she doesn’t have a whole lot to talk about. Usually when she was coaching, when she did talk, nobody listened anyway. I guess she figures she’s got a platform now.
“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. When you tend to win a lot, people want to watch you play a lot.”
Auriemma then added sarcastically, “I do want to thank the people at ESPN for helping us win those 111 [games] in a row. If it wasn’t for them, there’s no way we could have done it. Hopefully, there’s some people there that can take some credit for that.”
What’s interesting here is that McGraw’s comments were much more critical of ESPN (again, technically her current employer) than they were of UConn. Obviously in a world where a network as powerful as ESPN is in the world of college sports put their hand on a lever, there could be some on-court benefits to that kind of exposure and positive coverage. But Auriemma is also right that eleven national championships can’t be traced back to a network that doesn’t even air a majority of their games.
Where he loses points, though, is with how personal he went with his response. Suggesting that Hall of Famer McGraw was never taken seriously feels gross, and it’s unclear why he felt the need to go in on this issue so vigorously.
“Notre Dame has their own network; our network is SNY,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know why anybody would think ESPN is our network. I’m just glad we don’t go 30 years between winning championships. So maybe NBC ought to help them a little more.”
“We started getting on ESPN in 1995 … we’ve been on ESPN a lot,” Auriemma said. “There are a lot of other schools within proximity to ESPN. I don’t think the bias has anything to do with where ESPN is located or where UConn is located.”
Clearly Auriemma either sensitive to this specific issue or just has no time for an old coaching rival-turned-pundit, because this didn’t feel like a proportionate response to McGraw’s words. In recent weeks we’ve seen just how powerful ESPN’s voice can be in shaping a narrative in college athletics, for better and worse. It’s not a topic that should be inherently off-limits, even if it could be explored more thoroughly than McGraw did, albeit off the cuff on a podcast appearance.
That Auriemma would view criticism of ESPN as criticism of the UConn program, though, is maybe not the look Geno should have gone for here, considering circumstances.