AIAW history not lost on coaches

Weller, Stringer recall defunct association

Riley, Stiles lead honors

Women's notebook

NCAA Tournament

The Final Four

March 30, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- If you want to chart how far the women's game has come over the 20 years since the NCAA first sponsored a tournament, Maryland coach Chris Weller thinks you need only listen now for the sounds of silence.

Weller, who coached in the first NCAA Final Four in 1982, along with Tennessee's Pat Summitt, C. Vivian Stringer, then at Cheyney State, and Sonja Hogg, who coached at Louisiana Tech, recalls that the big thing was the controversy over which schools would play in the NCAA tournament and which would play in the now defunct Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

"We just were at a coaches' summit meeting earlier [yesterday], and it was just so quiet. Everybody was just discussing a few items and then they got up and left," said Weller, who coached in the 1978 AIAW Final Four, as well as the 1989 NCAA national semifinals.

Said Weller: "Back in those days every meeting we ever had was terribly expressive, if you will, and people were like Patrick Henry [with] `Give me liberty or give me death' kind of speeches, as to whether we wanted to stay with the AIAW or go with the NCAA type of thing."

Eventually, the AIAW faded from sight, but its impact has not been lost on coaches, who worry that the contributions of great players like Lynette Woodard and Lucy Harris and colleges like Immaculata and Delta State will all be forgotten as the game continues to grow and evolve.

"A great history of women's basketball has been lost, because there doesn't seem to be the kind of embracing that I really do feel personally should take place," said Stringer, who now coaches at Rutgers, which won the last AIAW title in 1982. "Somehow, the great players that were there, the great coaches that were there, are somewhat lost. It's as though it never happened, and that's unfortunate."

Awards and honors

Two Final Four participants have split two of the biggest individual honors of the season with Notre Dame center Ruth Riley capturing the Associated Press Player of the Year award yesterday, while Southwest Missouri State guard Jackie Stiles won the Wade Trophy, voted on by members of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

Riley, the Big East Player of the Year, led the Irish to their best record in school history, averaging 18.4 points and 7.7 rebounds, while Stiles, the NCAA's all-time leading scorer, averaged 30.6 points.

Riley and Stiles were also named to the 10-player Kodak All-America team, historically the most prestigious. They were joined by fellow seniors Svetlana Abrosimova of Connecticut, Tennessee's Tamika Catchings, Kelly Miller of Georgia, Duke's Georgia Schweitzer, Katie Douglas of Purdue and LSU's Marie Ferdinand. Oklahoma junior Stacey Dales and Mississippi State sophomore LaToya Douglas were also named to the team.

More TV games?

Heading into the final year of the tournament contract, ESPN officials said yesterday the network's goal is to eventually televise all 63 games of the tournament, provided the seven-year deal is extended.

John Wildhack, ESPN's senior vice president for programming, said the network, which will air 30 tournament games between ESPN and ESPN2, wants to retain the tournament, amid rumors that CBS may exercise a clause in its men's tournament deal to get the women's package.

"Our plan is to increase dramatically the number of games we televise on ESPN and ESPN2," Wildhack said. "We will be aggressive in terms of how we grow this championship and the other championships that are a part of the package."

Wildhack said the network will look to stagger its coverage of the regionals to four days, rather than the present two, a goal the tournament committee has also expressed. That cannot be accomplished, however, until the 2003 tournament, because the dates for next year's regionals have already been set.

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