Women’s college basketball no longer requires an annual midwinter shot in the arm from a marquee Tennessee-Connecticut rivalry.
And the Lady Vols can fill in the Thompson-Boling Arena seats vacated by the loss of their top attraction.
At least that’s the forward spin Lady Vols athletic director Joan Cronan puts on the end of the UT-UConn series that Tennessee announced last month.
Now, as to further insight on why Tennessee ended the premier series in women’s basketball, don’t hold your breath.
“We’re basically going forward,’’ Cronan said Friday.
Going forward to a future in which any meeting with UConn would come in the NCAA tournament bracket.
The rivalry goes into limbo with UConn leading 13-9, but with the Lady Vols having won the past three meetings.
It began in 1995 and the two dominant powers have played at least once annually in the regular season ever since. There also have been seven NCAA tournament meetings with UConn winning five.
UConn’s visits account for the top three all-time Lady Vol home crowds and six of the top 11. Those six UConn games averaged 23,967 at Thompson-Boling Arena between 1998 and 2006.
The top five road crowds in Lady Vol history are all at the Hartford Civic Center (a capacity 16,294).
“I think we’ll make it up,’’ Cronan said. “Yes, it has been our biggest game but we play the toughest schedule in America. I don’t think it will hurt us overall in attendance.
“Our fans will be very pleased with our 2007-08 schedule.’’
Going by tickets distributed, UT’s four biggest home crowds last season were: Vanderbilt (24,251); Duke (21,118); Notre Dame (19,092); Kentucky (18,952).
UConn was due to return this winter. The 2007-08 schedule hasn’t been released but is projected to feature several major non-conference home draws, including North Carolina, Texas and possibly 2007 NCAA title game-opponent Rutgers.
“When we started the Connecticut games it was very important to women’s basketball to have a national rivalry,’’ Cronan said. “As we go forward, I think there are a lot of natural rivalries.
“There are more games out there that need to be publicized as much as that particular game and I’ve said that for years.’’
Tennessee’s decision to end the series caught women’s basketball by surprise. Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt declined any comment. Cronan issued an official statement.
Sources indicate Summitt pulled the plug. She isn’t saying.
That her relationship with UConn coach Geno Auriemma was frequently contentious is no secret.
Speculation and some published accounts focus on the recruitment of Maya Moore, the 2006-07 Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year, who signed with UConn.
But specific issues UT might have had with UConn are largely unsubstantiated as both universities say little.
One suggested contention is improper contact between past UConn stars and recruits, both on and off campus.
Diana Taurasi told the Hartford Courant that she and former teammate Sue Bird were queried on alleged contact with Moore during the 2006 Final Four in Atlanta, but that both were playing in a professional league in Russia during the time frame.
Did UT even file such a complaint with the SEC office? Cronan won’t confirm or deny.
“We don’t comment on allegations, whether they’re true or not,’’ Cronan said.
Moore, from Sewanee, Ga., has enrolled in summer school and her mother has moved to Connecticut, according to the Hartford Courant.
The current recruiting battle is over Elena Delle Donne, the consensus top prospect in the Class of 2008. Delle Donne, of Wilmington, Del., lists her finalists as UConn, UT, Villanova and Middle Tennessee State, where her brother Gene plays football.
She recently called a two-month hiatus from the game and recruiting, citing burnout and referencing the UT-UConn feud.
“Somehow I was dragged into that and I had nothing to do with it,’’ she told HoopGurlz.com. “It was ridiculous stuff like that that I needed to get away from.’’
On the court, Tennessee-UConn was anything but ridiculous. However, for now, the featured parties and the game in general will have to fare without it.
“In today’s world,’’ said Cronan, “we are so much deeper and stronger in women’s basketball.
“It’s no longer just one important game for the year.’’