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Eric Niederhoffer 

St. Louis SportsOnline

columnist & principal photographer

Unmasking Words 4 March 1999

It seems that not a day goes by without someone telling us the meaning of common words and phrases. Christine Brennan does that with her column "Words to the wise about unwise words."

What's her point?

The Final Four has been associated with men's basketball and the notation "Lady" has been appended to a school's nickname for their women's team.

Ms. Brennan is just wrong-headed.

It's related to what my colleague says about the bad rap of women scientists. He reminds me that "all scientists have a bad rap."

Christine Brennan has fallen into a trap. A trap that includes the misplaced attention to self-esteem, a trap of not understanding history, especially the history of college sport, and a trap of not understanding the major player in the evolution of collegiate sport.

We're lead to believe from Brennan's writing that the "NCAA is an organization that promotes the education and achievement, on the field and off, of the nation's student-athletes." As documented in the Allen Sack and Ellen Staurowsky book "College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA's Amateur Myth," the NCAA has been far more concerned with the professionalization of college sport rather than lofty educational goals. To give the NCAA credit for the education of our children through sport is a mistake.

In their book, we are told of the NCAA's desire to control all of college sport, a determination that resulted in the conquest of the independent women's associations and thus the loss of differentiation. Anyone seriously interested in understanding collegiate sport should read Sack and Staurowsky, Murray Sperber, Susan Cahn, Joan Holt and Marianne Trekell, only a few of the available books on this topic.

What Brennan fails to tell us is that there are three divisions in the NCAA. With lower division levels there is less general interest, save their most loyal fans. But that's also the way it should be; Division III is most associated with the concept of amateurism.

Women and women's sport had opportunities under Title IX and the choice made was to be exactly like the men. Not to develop more fully women's athletics, but to be exactly like the men.

So what happens if there are two teams for a particular sport at a particular school. One is known as the men's team and the other is referred to as the women's team. Most fans are able to figure this out by looking at the individuals participating in the athletic activity. The addition of Lady to the school's nickname in fact is a way to differentiate. Should the NBA have consulted with Brennan concerning the naming of the women's league?

Brennan is correct in her characterization of women's basketball. Until the women can play just like the men, it will remain a lesser game. Not quite as interesting and certainly not as marketable. And that my friend$ i$ what the NCAA i$ mo$t intere$ted in.

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