March Madness, indeed: Women’s game is on the verge

With a little push and some marketing, women’s college hoops can hit the stratosphere.

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South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston cuts the net after the Gamecocks beat UConn in the NCAA Tournament championship game.

South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston cuts the net after the Gamecocks beat UConn in the NCAA Tournament championship game.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

If I were a marketing and promo guy, I’d much rather have the NCAA women’s basketball tourney to crank up than the men’s.

The Final Four semis and championship games for each gender were played this past extended weekend, and, yes, the Kansas-North Carolina men’s title game was a dandy.

But the guys’ Big Dance — the phrase trademarked by the NCAA in 1998 — hardly needs more promotion. That has been going on for 83 years. Gamblers, bracket-heads and hoops fans around the globe wouldn’t miss it for all the tea in Costco.

 Monday night’s championship game had two of the biggest heavyweights in college history going at it — Kansas, where Dr. James Naismith himself once coached, and North Carolina, where Himself, Michael Jordan, once played.

But the women’s tourney?

Its NCAA championship run didn’t start until 1982 and has been playing catch-up ever since.

South Carolina-UConn may have been a big-time dance, and the Gamecocks’ 64-49 thrashing of the Huskies was compelling. But it was a small-time affair compared to the dudes’ conga line of hype and gambling bets and likely NBA first-round picks and over-the-top sports chatter.

The women’s game is a comparative startup, puttering along in a secondary fashion. But with the right tweaking, I feel certain it could grow into a monster to rival the men’s billion-dollar March Madness (trademark, of course) money pit.

Oh, and about that trademark, which the NCAA has owned since 1989: This year, for the first time, the women got to use March Madness to describe their tourney, too.

Of course, everything the women want in all sports must be demanded, wrested, snared or sued from the men because guys — like all humans in power in anything of any substance — don’t like to share.

Remember, Title IX didn’t get passed as a federal statute until 1972, and women weren’t deemed strong enough to run the marathon in the Olympics until 1984. And they couldn’t ski jump at the Winter Olympics until 2014.

But back to basketball.

A lot of people say the women’s game is slow, old-fashioned, not gymnastic and high-flying. All that may be true, but it’s only in comparison to the men’s game.

The first thing I would do to push the women’s game into the stratosphere is get away from comparisons to what men do. Women’s tennis thrives because of what women can do on the court, not what they can’t do.

Use that as impetus. Nobody avoids women’s tennis because the females can’t serve 140 mph. They love it for what it is — great competition.

I saw that in this year’s tourney. South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and UConn’s Paige Bueckers are stars with fascinating games. 

Boston, 6-5 and solid, is that game-changing force down low. And Bueckers is that shifty deer flashing through the meadow.

Those are stories that can be built up, cranked into superstardom. Did you know Boston is from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands? Probably not. Did you know Hall of Famer Tim Duncan is from the Virgin islands, too?

Get ’em both in an ad for a cruise line or hotel chain? I’m on it, baby! 

The ‘‘amateur’’ college players’ new image and likeness freedom makes so much possible. Bueckers already has signed a three-year endorsement deal with Gatorade. She also has deals with mobile-payment service Cash App and online marketplace StockX. Plus, she has a trademark for ‘‘Paige Buckets’’ for sports apparel. She’s making close to seven figures right now, the poor thing.

But there’s the beauty of it. Use these women as posters to make your game famous and cool. It can be done.

And here’s another huge advantage to the women’s game: The stars return year after year. The men, if they’re any good, are one-and-done. Remember Zion Williamson at Duke? Barely.

Right now, the WNBA won’t take any U.S. players until they’re 22 and have completed their college eligibility.

What a great college promo thing — Bueckers and Boston will be back on campus next season. Remember when Lew Alcindor and Larry Bird played four years for their college teams? It was exciting. 

You got this, ladies.

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