Women’s college basketball coaches are trading jabs like never before early in the new year.
UConn’s Geno Auriemma and retired Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw feuded over media bias.
Now SC’s Dawn Staley, NC State’s Wes Moore, LSU’s Kim Mulkey, and more have gotten in on the action.
Things are getting heated in women’s college basketball — and not between the players.
Top NCAA women’s basketball coaches are trading not-so-subtle jabs at each other like never before to start the new year, and it’s raising the stakes as teams head into conference play.
The drama started with two of the most powerful figures in women’s college basketball over the past decade: UConn Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma and retired Notre Dame Fighting Irish playcaller Muffet McGraw. After McGraw said on a podcast hit that UConn “absolutely” benefits from media bias — particularly from Connecticut-based sports media giant ESPN — the 11-time national champion poured gasoline on the fire with personal barbs and classic Auriemma satire.
“I guess Muffet is bored,” Auriemma said. “I guess she didn’t have a whole lot to talk about and usually when she was coaching, when she did talk, nobody listened anyway.”
“I think the bias has something to do — if there is any — with the 11 national championships, which is a lot more than [Notre Dame’s] two,” he added. “If people didn’t want to watch us on television, I’m sure they wouldn’t put us on. If we didn’t generate the ratings, I’m sure people wouldn’t have us on.”
Auriemma didn’t stop there. He continued roasting the retired Hall of Fame coach for saying UConn “won more than anybody except Tennessee.”
“I think she missed Sesame Street growing up,” Auriemma said, implying that McGraw can’t count. “Eleven [national championships] is more than [Tennessee’s] eight.”
In the following days, several other active head coaches of top-ranked women’s college basketball programs started feuds of their own. Before No. 19 North Carolina traveled across the Research Triangle to take on the fifth-ranked Wolfpack, Tar Heels head coach Courtney Banghart insinuated that venue size — not fan engagement — resulted in NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum selling out for the Thursday-night contest.
“It’s a small gym, so it doesn’t take a lot to sell it out,” Banghart said. “We’ll play in front of more fans at other places. It says ‘sold out’ because it’s a small gym.”
After the Wolfpack thrashed their previously undefeated crosstown rivals 72-45, NC State head coach Wes Moore used the postgame press conference as an opportunity to punch back.
“I guess we got a small media room too,” Moore quipped, according to Raleigh News & Observer beat writer Jonas Pope IV.
And then, over in the SEC, South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley took a dig at Hall of Famer Kim Mulkey. On Thursday night, top-ranked South Carolina squeaked out a six-point road victory against the No. 13 LSU Tigers — making Staley the first-ever coach to beat Auriemma, Mulkey, and Stanford Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer in a single season.
But LSU played the Gamecocks close — as close as all but two of South Carolina’s opponents this season. Even still, when she was asked how improved the Tigers are since Mulkey’s arrival in Baton Rouge this offseason, Staley was reluctant to offer Mulkey credit and brought up her predecessor.
“They still play with the same grit,” Staley said in response. “I thought [former Tigers head coach] Nikki [Fargas] did a great job getting the most out of them. If she got the support that Kim is getting — you know, the energy in this building, it’s gonna raise the level of play. The people in the building will allow that to happen.”
“If Nikki [Fargas] got a chance to do that, maybe she’d still be sitting here,” she added. “But they got a good team… I think Kim does a great job at simplifying. They just play simple basketball and they’re efficient at it.”
Across the board, the verbal punches slung between coaches fired up fanbases on all sides of each squabble. And in a sport that’s constantly fighting for primetime television slots, media acknowledgment, and fair allocation of resources, a little bit of extra engagement and an easy entry point for new fans could go a long way.
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