A Strongly Worded Letter

Dear Ms. Summitt,

First off, congratulations on your victory Monday night. Your team played well, and I guess you were due for a win eventually. So Mazel Tov on your accomplishment.

But that's not why I'm writing to you today.

Simply put, I'm here to defend the reputations of my blue-painted brethren.

Over the weekend, you used the local media to take a few shots at the denizens of Cameron Indoor Stadium. You complained that the last time Tennessee played at Duke-which, if I recall correctly, involved a 75-53 throttling of your top-ranked Lady Vols-you were disappointed "with the behavior, in particular of the students toward Alexis. They stepped way over the line on that one."

The Alexis you speak of is Alexis Hornbuckle, the point guard for your squad. During that fateful 2006 contest, the Cameron Crazies shook plastic bags and chanted "roll back prices" in reference to a misdemeanor shoplifting arrest Hornbuckle had at a Wal-Mart when she was 18.

Hornbuckle, by the way, had six turnovers and went 0-4 from the charity stripe in that game.

My first reaction to your comment was whether you had ever read an article about or watched a basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But The New York Times reported that you wanted the students to go after you, not your players.

"The main thing is, I want to protect these student-athletes," you said. "They are students and they're athletes and they're representing the university. Get on the coach all you want to. Just don't harass the players."

C'mon Coach-this isn't middle school or even high school here. They're grown women, not little kids. Even Hornbuckle said she laughs at the incident now. Also, from a purely practical standpoint, don't you realize how hard it is to taunt someone with an NCAA-record 965 victories and seven national championships? What can be said other than the fact you're really, really good at your job?

(Incidentally, if you had never brought this up, it's doubtful that anyone would have remembered Hornbuckle's run-in with the law, and it wouldn't have become a national story picked up by ESPN and The New York Times. But I digress.)

Apparently your position has become the party line of your athletic department as well. You reportedly voiced your concerns about the taunting to the powers that be at Tennessee, who saw it fit to insert a little editorial nugget into the game notes provided to the media. The note described the teams' last meeting in Cameron by saying "at times, the 'Cameron Crazies' tended toward the vulgar end of the cheering spectrum."

Tell me Coach-have you ever been to Maryland? Or Virginia Tech? Or Florida State? Let me tell you, things can get a lot more vulgar and much less tame than waving plastic bags and chanting the name of a discount retailer.

But what really upset me was that you told GoVolsXtra.com that you "wouldn't be in favor of continuing the series if we're going to go in a gym and they're going to take personal shots at one of our players."

Now this really doesn't make much sense at all. Women's basketball depends on matchups like Duke-Tennessee. You already ended the marquee rivalry in college basketball this past summer by not renewing your contract with UConn, because in head coach Geno Auriemma's words, "She's not playing us because she hates my guts."

The fact is that since UConn's streak of 70 straight wins ended, women's basketball in this country has been pretty stagnant. The only time the sport is in the national news now is when you set another coaching wins record or for reasons that bring unwanted attention to the sport, such as Pokey Chatman and Don Imus. It's almost poetic that the women's national title game is a day after the men's: it's become an afterthought.

Quite frankly, women's college basketball needs attractive matchups and rivalries since the quality of play doesn't go more than two or three teams deep in each conference. There's no reason why UConn, Tennessee, Duke, UNC, Maryland, Rutgers, Baylor and LSU shouldn't all play one another in the regular season. Would you really end the Duke-Tennessee rivalry, and cast women's basketball's regular season deeper into irrelevance, because of some playful taunting that doesn't even border on hateful? Especially when your players don't even seem to mind?

The Crazies did the right thing by not changing what makes Cameron Cameron and stood up to you last night. But for the good of women's basketball, let's hope you were bluffing.


Galen Vaisman


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