With leagues instituting rules that govern how long players may stay on teams, dynasties are becoming less frequent in professional sports. In college sports, dynasties are even more uncommon since players are only eligible for four years. So with the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team winning their fourth straight title tonight, Brandon Magee has decided to pit them against the most dynastic team of them all to see if the lady Huskies have surpassed them. It will be the UConn Huskies vs the New York Yankees.
With the UConn Huskies hoisting their unprecedented fourth consecutive NCAA women’s basketball title last night – defeating Syracuse by the score of 82 to 51 – the inevitable question is asked: How dominant are the Huskies? Having previously come to a draw in our Dusty Rhodes Cage Match, we have decided once again to get in the ring. On one side of the squared circle, the UConn Huskies – winners of eleven national championships, and led by the dynamic coaching duo of Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey. On the other side, in a surprising twist, four different Yankees teams. It’s a handicap match! How will the women fare against the might of the Bronx Bombers?
Length of Reign
The first category we look at is the length of the dynasty. Which, is more difficult than one would assume. After all, what ends a dynasty? Let’s look at the Yankee competitors trying to jump in the ring.
The modern era dynastic Yankees. The 1995 Yankees, winners of a wild card berth and the last season under Buck Showalter, was the first Yankees playoff team in 14 years. The 2007 Yankees were the last season of a twelve year managerial run of Joe Torre, who reached the playoffs in all 12 seasons, winning 10 AL East Titles, and reaching six World Series while winning four – including three in a row from 1998-2000. On the other hand, the team went out of the competition in the first round (the AL Division series) six times with the era coming to a close with three consecutive ALDS losses.
Arguably, the era could begin with the 1947 Yankees, who defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the world championship. However, manager Bucky Harris was dismissed after a third-place finish in 1948 and replaced by Casey Stengel, who led the Bombers to five consecutive World Series (1949-1953) and won an additional two in five appearances over his twelve season tenure. Ralph Houk took over in 1961, winning two consecutive Series before losing the 1963 championship, and ceded the managerial reins to Yogi Berra – who coaxed the team to a fifth consecutive World Series appearance, but another loss. Over 16 seasons, the Yankees went to 14 World Series and won nine.
Perhaps the forgotten Yankees dynasty, with the last two seasons being played in the midst of World War II. However, The Joe McCarthy-led Yankees went to seven World Series in eight seasons, winning six titles including four consecutive from ‘36-’39.
The first great Yankees dynasty, the club that Boston gave away, is often the first that comes to mind when thinking of the Yankees – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, the 1927 Yankees. However, in terms of winning championships, this team falls behind. Over the eight season run, the team won just three championships in six World Series appearances. They also are the only team to have a truly awful team present during the run, as the 1925 Yankees went 69-85 and placed 7th in the eight team American League.
The 1999/2000-2015/2016 UConn Huskies
The end point for the Huskies is designated as 2016 only because our time machine only goes into the past, not the future. This dynamic run could, and likely will, continue for many years into the future. The question then becomes, when did the dynasty begin?
An argument could be made to go back to the first NCAA championship for the Huskies in 1995, an undefeated season for the Rebecca Lobo-led pack. However, as good as the team was the following four seasons – reaching another Final Four in 1996, and two more Elite Eights in 1997 and 1998 – injuries to a number of stars (Shea Ralph, Nykesha Sales, and Sue Bird among the wounded) kept the team from reaching the championship summit.
Instead, we start with the 2000 Huskies, winners of the second National Championship for the Nutmeg State. The team would lose in the Final Four to conference-mate Notre Dame – after losing Shea Ralph and Svetlana Abrosimova to injuries – in 2001 before winning the next three championships, bringing the total to four in five seasons. 2005 was a down season, with the Huskies only reaching the Sweet Sixteen while 2006 and 2007 saw the team rise back to the Elite Eight. Which leads us to 2008, where the Huskies began their current run of brilliance.
Starting with the 2008 season, the Huskies have ended each season at the final destination, the Final Four. The run of 11 consecutive Elite Eights and nine consecutive Final Fours are both records for NCAA women’s basketball. While the Huskies did not win the 2008 championship, they did win the 2009 and 2010 trophies, going undefeated in both seasons. After losing in the National Semifinals in 2011 and 2012, the Huskies have won the next four consecutive titles, with the teams in 2014 and this season going undefeated.
Over seventeen seasons, the team has won ten championships, gone to fourteen final fours and ended the season without a blemish five times.
The Verdict: The UConn Huskies win a split decision over the Greatest Dynasty in MLB, the 1949-1964 Yankees. Although both dynasties could be extended back even longer, the Huskies get the nod by being a season longer and having the potential to continue.
Out of the Wilderness
The 1920s Yankees jump into the ring for this match-up, for a team as dynastic as the Yankees could only be seen as stuck in quicksand before that first dynasty. With the Yankees team being established in the American League in 1903, after moving from Baltimore, the Bronx Bummers spent their first eighteen seasons of existence out of playoff contention. Although they did have a couple of second place finishes during that string, the closest the franchise came to a World Series berth was in 1904, when the Highlanders finished 1 1/2 games behind the Boston Americans and the New York Giants refused to play what would have been the second World Series. Twice during these early seasons, the team lost more than 100 games.
As for UConn, the first official women’s basketball team took the court in 1974, two years after Title IX became the law of the land. UConn would struggle during the ensuing seasons, only once breaking .500 (16-14 in 1980/81) before the arrival of Auriemma for the 1985/86 season. Auriemma would bring the team’s second .500 record in his second season, the team’s first conference title and NCAA tournament berth in year four, and the Huskies’ first trip to the Final Four in his sixth season in 1990/91.
The Verdict: The Yankees “win” this one, being without a postseason trip for their first 18 seasons. The Huskies made their first NCAA tournament in their 15th season.
The Joe McCarthy-led men of 1936-1943 jump into the ring for this matchup, and why not? In their eight seasons of dominance, the Yankees lowest win total was 88 and their second lowest win total was 98. In five of the eight seasons, the team broke the 100-win barrier. In their seven trips to the AL Pennant, they won the division by fewer than 10 games just twice – in both cases losing by nine. Their one blemish, the 1940 squad that came in third, was only two games off the pace.
While the 100-win mark is an obvious number to confer team dominance in baseball, one tends to look at losses, or more specifically, lack of losses in basketball. During the current 17-season run, the Huskies worst season was an eight-loss season in 2004/2005. It was also the only season during the current run where the Huskies failed to break the 30-win mark. The rest of the breakdown goes like this:
The team also had ten undefeated conference regular seasons, 13 regular season championships and 13 conference tournament championships during this 17-season span.
Verdict: Too close to call. Seven seasons of 98 wins or better vs. 16 seasons with 30+ wins and five or fewer losses. They are both incredible runs.
We jump back to the dynamic 1949-1964 Yankees for this battle. The first blow is landed by five consecutive World Series wins, an unprecedented run of baseball excellence that the Yankees accomplished from 1949-1953. After a second place finish to Cleveland in 1954, New York came back with a run of four more World Series appearances, winning a pair. After falling well off the pace in 1959 – finishing 15 games back of Chicago – the Bombers won five more pennants and another pair of championships.
Going to fourteen World Series in sixteen seasons is a product of a great regular season and a system that rewarded only the top team in each league. Going to the World Series in and of itself does not confer post-season dominance. The nine titles in 16 seasons certainly do, however.
In the 14 matchups, the seven game series ended thusly:
|Yankees Win||Yankees Lose|
|4 to 0||1||4 to 0||1|
|4 to 1||2||4 to 1||0|
|4 to 2||2||4 to 2||0|
|4 to 3||4||4 to 3||4|
This shows that the Yankees were only easily dismissed once, while winning five of their nine series with relative ease.
So, can UConn parry this blow? UConn cannot match the five-season championship streak the Bombers had at the beginning of their run, but they can boast the current four consecutive championships that could run to five next season. The Huskies can also boast of winning four championships in five seasons at the beginning of the streak.
However, the real blow by the Huskies comes from one fact. When the Huskies make it to the Championship game, they don’t lose. Ever. Their eleven total NCAA championships come from eleven championship appearances.
The question is, how do we evaluate the post-season tournament runs that the Huskies had to make? Could we somehow relate them to the World Series results above?
|Huskies Win||Huskies Lose|
The difficulty of sweeping a seven game series is evidenced by the fact that in only two of the fourteen World Series ended with the losing team not winning a game. On the other hand, eight of the series went to a final and deciding seventh game. In that context, going undefeated ten times in 17 years in a post-season tournament has to be considered a great feat. Especially when it is not one team that can knock you out, but six different teams. And the deeper you go, the better the team, each one on its own long winning streak.
In fact, one only needs to look at the difficulty of the 1995-2007 Yankees to survive beyond the first round of the playoffs to see the inherent difficulty of a multi-tiered playoff system. While the 1949-64 Yankees are an undeniably great team, there is no guarantee they would have been in 14 World Series if there was another round of playoffs.
The Verdict: One could argue that the ten NCAA Championships and the nine World Series Trophies are roughly equivalent. However, UConn’s run to fourteen Final Fours in seventeen season puts them over the top.
With the BBWAA awarding the Most Valuable Player award starting in 1931, the first dynastic Yankees team has to sit this one out. However, the other three Yankees club all jumped in the ring, trying to add this one category to get the match back to a stalemate.
The 1949-1964 Yanks picked up ten MVP awards, with Elston Howard and Phil Rizzuto winning one a piece, Roger Maris grabbing two in a row in 1960 and 1961, and Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle each winning the award three times. The Yankees also won a pair of Cy Young Awards – established in 1956 – with Bob Turley in 1958 and Whitey Ford in 1961.
However, 20 pieces of individual hardware over 37 years is a pretty good haul.
What about the Huskies?
Unlike MLB, there are currently five different organizations bestowing an MVP to the best women’s college basketball player. Luckily, for this exercise, the organizations are largely in agreement. Sue Bird swept the awards in 2002 as did Diana Taurasi in 2003. Taurasi also added one of the five awards in 2004. Maya Moore swept all five awards in 2009 and 2011, while splitting the five awards with teammate Tina Charles in 2010. Breanna Stewart picked up three of the five awards in 2014 before sweeping the awards the past two seasons.
So, in nine of the 17 years, a UConn player has been acknowledged by at least one organization as the best collegiate player in the nation.
Verdict: It’s another Push. The inclusion of the Last Yankees dynasty diluted the awards total for the Bombers, but it may also have highlighted that the MVP awards in the early days tended to go to a player on the best team. Meanwhile, UConn’s great players aren’t just winning one piece of hardware, they are being called the consensus best player in the collegiate world.
Overall Verdict: UConn wins, 2-1-2.
While it may be surprising, UConn’s current run deserves to be recognized for what it is, one of the great sports dynasties of all time. In the past 17 seasons, the Huskies have won 10 Championships, made 14 Final Fours, won 30+ games 16 times, and completed the season undefeated five times. Their record stands at 598-40, a ridiculous 93.7% winning percentage. And before baseball fans get too irate, the only two regular-season losses the consensus second and third best teams in the nation – Notre Dame and South Carolina – had this season came at the hands of UConn.
The Huskies also have the most consecutive National Championships (4), most consecutive NCAA Tournament wins (24), most consecutive Final Fours (9), and Elite Eights (11). They have also compiled the three longest winning streaks in NCAA women’s basketball history – 90 from 2008-11 when the team had a pair of undefeated Championship seasons, 70 in 2001-2003, and their current streak of 75 – a streak that could have extended to 123 if not for a two-point, overtime loss at Stanford in the second game of the 2014/15 season.
Given the Huskies’ dominance, the Yankees should be proud to have hung so tough. But give the ladies of Storrs their due. This run may very well be the greatest sports dynasty, ever.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.