Boston gives UM women respect they lack at home


BOSTON -- It didn't take long for Shay Doron and the University of Maryland women's basketball team to realize that tomorrow's national semifinal against North Carolina wasn't going to be just any old basketball game.

"Oh, my God, it's been amazing," said Doron, a junior and UM's third-leading scorer. "Our host hotel had a welcoming party for us. Everybody was out there cheering. ... I've never been pampered and treated like this before in my life. We had a police escort."

Usually staid Beantown, which typically goes crazy only for the Red Sox or the Patriots, is the capital of women's basketball for this weekend.

It's the farthest north the NCAA women's Final Four has been in its 25 years, and a sign of how much has changed in the sport since the last time Maryland played for a national title, 17 years ago.

Millions of girls play the game at the youth recreational league, high school and collegiate levels. Where it was once next to impossible to find a women's basketball game on television, ESPN now carries a weekly slate of games and airs all 63 NCAA tournament games.

The boom in college basketball and the success of the U.S. Olympic team, which has won three straight gold medals, led to the creation of the WNBA, a professional league founded and supported by the NBA.

The WNBA will mark its 10th anniversary this year, making it the longest continuously running major women's pro sports league in U.S. history. The league is staging its collegiate draft here next week in conjunction with the Final Four.

In 1989, when the Terps met Tennessee in the national semifinals in Tacoma, Wash., the game was played at the 10,000-seat Tacoma Dome, which was half-filled when the teams took the floor.

Tomorrow's semifinals will mark the 14th straight year the Final Four has sold out, in NBA arenas such as the 19,000-seat TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, and in stadiums such as the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, where 29,619 fans watched Connecticut beat Oklahoma in 2002.

Many credit the success of the 1995 Connecticut team, which won the championship with an undefeated season, for opening the eyes of the Northeast news media to a sport that had largely been marginalized as a game with only Southern appeal.

"When Tennessee and Texas were at the top of the game, there was nowhere near the interest of what happened when Connecticut took its first title and making the cover of Sports Illustrated," said Donna Lopiano, chief executive officer of the Women's Sports Foundation. "If you can break into the Northeast corridor media, that's the name of the game."

With the boom has come money. Debbie Yow was one of nine full-time women's basketball coaches in the late 1970s at Kentucky, before going to Florida, where she earned $30,000 in 1984-1985.

Today, as Maryland's athletic director, Yow pays fourth-year head coach Brenda Frese more than $300,000 in salary. The women's basketball team's overall operating budget is nearly $1.9 million, $50,000 of which goes just to recruiting, nearly triple the $18,000 Yow had for recruiting at Florida.

"What folks realized ... was you get what you pay for, that the keys to the kingdom was who you hire as a coach," said Lopiano, formerly the Texas women's athletic director.

"And when [athletic directors] started to be willing to pay substantial salaries to women's basketball coaches, you really had some great young talent coming into the coaching profession. That really made a difference, and that continues to this day."

Maryland men's coach Gary Williams, who guided the school to its only national basketball championship in 2002, earned somewhere from $1.3 million to $1.6 million this year in salary, and he is hardly alone among men's coaches.

By contrast, only one women's basketball coach, Tennessee's Pat Summitt - who has won more games than any coach in college history (913) and more championships (six) than any other active coach - receives more than $1 million annually.

The gap in salaries between men's and women's coaches at UM is pretty universal across the NCAA.

At Louisiana State, for example, the women's coach, Dana "Pokey" Chatman, who will take the Lady Tigers to their third straight Final Four this weekend, earns the same $250,000 base salary as her male counterpart, John Brady.

But Brady, who will take the LSU men's team to its first Final Four appearance in 20 years tonight, gets $330,000 more in ancillary revenues, such as radio and television appearances and shoe contracts, than Chatman does, according to the Daily Reveille, the LSU student newspaper.

Women's basketball also lags far behind its male counterpart in interest.

The Maryland men's team, for instance, sold out all of its home regular-season games at 17,950-seat Comcast Center this season, despite a disappointing 19-13 mark and a first-round exit from the National Invitation Tournament.

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