Is sports about making everyone feel like a winner? Are personal records a byproduct of competition, or the goal?
An incident in women's college basketball continues to raise these issues. Last Tuesday, one of the best players in the country, Nykesha Sales, became the leading scorer in University of Connecticut history. What has caused a stir is that the basket that gave her the record was made without an effort by the opposing team to stop her. By prior agreement between her coach and the opposing Villanova coach, Ms. Sales scored the first basket of the game. Connecticut then allowed Villanova to score an uncontested basket to even the game at 2-2.
The scheme to have Sales, who was injured and out for the season, limp onto the court and into the school record books was worked out ahead of time by Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, Villanova coach Harry Perretta, and Big East Commissioner Michael Tranghese. Even the previous school recordholder, Kerry Bascom, was consulted and gave her approval to the plan.
The incident might have attracted less publicity had Tranghese, in an effort to justify it afterward, not tripped over his own tongue, saying the plan was something he'd only have approved for a woman athlete. "You have to understand that males are made up differently from women," he said. "Men compete, get along, and move on with few emotions. But women break down, get emotional.... These are entirely different sports cultures."
We beg to differ. Since Ms. Sales is known as a consummate team player, it was perhaps natural for her to accept her coach's offer. And it should be further noted that the record is only a school one, not involving conference or national records. The outcome of the game was unaffected. And everyone involved took part willingly. So ... no harm, no foul?
Perhaps. Yet a purist thought nags, expressed well by Ann Meyers, TV analyst and basketball hall of famer. "Now it seems like everything is about the statistics," she says. "It is about records. It is not about being a team."
Sales's well-meaning coach might have served her and women's basketball better by letting the record stay out of her grasp. As it is, there's now an implied asterisk (*last two points were not earned) that accompanies it.