There are a LOT of things spinning through my mind (and across my social media feeds) over the past week, so we’re going to do a quick-take version of the blog (I’ll add to it as the day goes on).
* How do you root for a team where you disagree with the underlying narrative, know that success for said team will only validate its practices and allow them to perpetuate, yet support the players who undoubtedly have been beneficiaries of that narrative and those practices? Thus is the dilemma for some women’s soccer fans who want the US Women’s National Team to “be better” across a number of platforms (some specific to the game, some specific to the business). I want to see better play on the field, a more competitive environment where the team is seen as a collection of parts (this fits here, this fits here, this can be removed for this, etc.) and not a piece of art, and an off-the-field structure that gives decision-makers the ability to act with only one thought in mind: winning (be it short-term success or taking the long-term view of getting from A to B). Will I bash the squad because of it? No. Will I hope for the players that they perform to the utmost of their ability on the field this evening? Yes. Will it be easy doing all of this given my opinions of how USSF has handled the business end of the equation? Not in the least.
* Columns by Wendy Parker and Alexander Gott on media and women’s sports both I think miss the mark a bit. Neither one addressed a big difference between how most men’s sports are treated on TV (stable scheduling which becomes “destination viewing” because most people know when and where to see it) and how women’s sports are treated (filling gaps in schedules, placed in lower-viewed windows such as Friday nights, and subject to being moved about the schedule). I DVR “We Need to Talk” because its place on the programming schedule (Tuesdays at 10pm and Wednesdays at 10am, with replays through the overnight hours between those two times) don’t fit with my early-morning work schedule. Even a great program as this misses the mark as 1) it’s mostly about the big four sports as seen through the female journalist’s eye, 2) it doesn’t get a consistent run (on for a few weeks, gone for two months, back on for a while, etc.), and 3) its place on the schedule. The boom of niche media has helped women’s sports expand their footprint, but niche media can’t deliver eyeballs in the eight figures like “legacy” media (newspapers, major over-the-air television networks, large-scale cable sports networks). Without that, destination programming become the best way for women’s sports to cross over into the mass culture pipeline. Putting the WNBA on in the same time slots as the NBA gets from ESPN (e.g., 7pm on Wednesday evenings) and with the same treatment would be a step in the right direction (or National Pro FastPitch on CBS Sports Network at similar times to where they’d show Big East baseball in the spring). Same goes for a regular spot for NCAA Women’s Basketball in the weekly college basketball rotation (7pm Thursday nights, for instance). A national TV contract for NWSL with a game of the week slotted within the Monday-Thursday, 7pm-11pm “prime time” window would be another advancement.
* The eliminations of France and Canada from the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup have gotten me to thinking about their paths forward. In Canada’s case, the big question is whether they should begin rebuilding for the 2019 World Cup or keep this team together one more year in an attempt to qualify for and medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics (either way is a legitimate way to look at it and I really don’t have an idea which would be better long-term for Canada). Surely the same question will be asked of the United States following this tournament, regardless of their finish in it (the off-field issues concerning USWNT selection make this question even harder to answer). France has a longer-term question facing it. With the 2019 Women’s World Cup on home soil, the question is whether “the window” for a title for this team is long enough to include the World Cup or if it will close with the 2017 European Championship. To answer that, I looked over their roster from this World Cup to see where their top eight players (Le Sommer, Delie, Thomis, Thiney, Abily, Necib, Georges, and Renard) were on the age scale. In order for 2019 to be within their title window, at least six of those players must be part of the team, not be past age 32 at that time, and no more than one player at each position lost. With that, here is where those eight would be in 2019: Le Sommer, 30; Delie, 31; Thomis, 32-33; Thiney, 33-34 ; Abily, 34-35; Necib, 32; Georges, 34-35; Renard, 28-29. With those numbers, I would argue that this World Cup was their sweet spot to lift the trophy, with Euro 2017 still viable, and the 2019 World Cup is at the very far edge of the window if not slightly outside it.