What's in a name? Plenty

Originally Published: November 19, 2004
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: In this new feature, ESPN.com columnist Mechelle Voepel shares her take on recent hot topics. If you've got a question you'd like Voepel to answer, shoot her an e-mail at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

What about taking names off the backs of jerseys, as Tennessee has done this season?

I hate it. Good grief, isn't women's basketball anonymous enough? How long have we been fighting that? Why make it more difficult for viewers to know who the players are?

I was cursing the no-name policy for Ohio State recently, when watching on TV as the Buckeyes were facing Notre Dame in the Preseason WNIT final. Ohio State has been steadily climbing into the national spotlight under Jim Foster, but who outside of the Big Ten fans/media would right off recognize every Buckeye? Or have their numbers memorized?

It's not like Ohio State gets a lot of national TV coverage. Ohio State was on ESPN2 twice last year during the regular season and will be on the Deuce once this year prior to postseason. Then there are the FSN regional broadcasts, but not everyone has a satellite dish to get those.

I know -- if you're at a game, you can get a program, and if you're watching on TV, you can call up Web sites and print out numerical rosters. But, again, why make things harder for viewers?

This became a topic recently on the Big 12 women's basketball board, Hoopscoop.net, in regard to Tennessee's decision. It seemed the majority of posters said it was much more helpful to them to have names on jerseys when they are watching games.

Yes, UConn goes nameless -- and I don't like that, either -- but it's kind of UConn's longtime "thing," reflecting Geno Auriemma's idea that his program is like the New York Yankees of women's hoops.

I'm baffled by Tennessee's decision. Pat Summitt has always been so keenly aware of the importance of marketing and selling women's basketball. Every sport is "sold" with its standout players.

If you've been following a team for a while, go back 10 years or so and see how many names of players you remember. OK, now see if you recall all their jersey numbers. Excluding you Rain Men and Rain Women out there, I'm betting the names stick much better than the numbers do.

As for why she did it, Summitt said in her weekly news conference Wednesday, "It's just the fact that we had six freshmen coming in. Over the years, I contemplated that -- because I think the more talent you have, the more emphasis that needs to be placed on the team. It goes back to a lot of football teams. Bear Bryant, his promoting 'team' all the time. And that's what I wanted to do, particularly with this recruiting class. I thought it was a good time for a change."

Bear Bryant? What? Tennessee is looking to Alabama's late football coach for guidance? As for "more emphasis on the team" ... if names are actually a distraction from "team" then why have numbers, either? Why keep a box score that lists all individual stats? Why have postseason individual awards?

Are we supposed to believe that players are really that immature, that they need to have no names on their jerseys to actually play as a team? Surely, coaches can nurture the "team unity" concept in other ways. Summitt has been doing that forever.

What should we make of all the "upsets" early on?

Well, this is hardly the first time we've seen this. There are upsets every year. But it does seem like more and more teams are willing to play tougher nonconference schedules, realizing that's the only way you can really elevate your program into national-elite status.

But what do the so-called upsets really mean? They're fun, and they make poll voting -- which early on is always like throwing darts in the dark -- more of a challenge. But we have had the same national champion, UConn, for three years in a row. And we've had just one Final Four in the last 10 years -- in 1999 -- that didn't have UConn, Tennessee or both.

So ... we'll see if November's and December's upsets really change things come March and April.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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