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March 1, 2019 — When “tough love” isn’t enough

Hall-of-Fame women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer has not had the easiest of transitions when the Rutgers University program moved to the Big Ten in 2014. Since then, the Scarlet Knights have failed to finish higher than fifth in league play, and have won exactly five NCAA Tournament games in the last 10 years.

In fact, about the only notable accomplishment the team has since losing the 2007 NCAA title match is winning the 2014 WNIT championship, a single-elimination “best of the rest” tournament for teams not making the NCAA Tournament. It remains, oddly enough, the only collegiate championship she’s ever won as a head coach.

Stringer has been dealing with a team which is 20-8 on the season, and is currently third in the Big Ten. However, there has been an underlying indiscipline within the team, as Caitlin Jenkins was dismissed from the team three days ago following a domestic violence arrest, and guard CC Cryor was dismissed for a second violation of an undisclosed team rule.

If you’ve ever seen the documentary “This Is A Game, Ladies,” you can understand why she recently declared that she would be taking a leave of absence due to exhaustion, leaving assistant coach Tim Eatman in charge of the team through the Big Ten Tournament.

Stringer is a woman who does not suffer fools gladly, even the women she recruits onto her team. She adheres to the old values of hard work, discipline and defense, often applying the “us against the world” attitude that has served her well over a career going back to 1972.

But there comes a point when the elastic snaps. Stringer has had a health scare in the past, having fought breast cancer, and has raised a special-needs daughter. And then, comes the revelations of exhaustion the last week or so.

As much as Stringer’s “tough love” has worked in the past when it comes to players not following the rules, I’m sure there was an internal conflict whilst dismissing Jenkins and Cryor. Stringer does have a deep and abiding love for the women who play for her, and dismissals like these aren’t taken lightly.

Still, you wonder whether Stringer’s chase of the elusive white whale of a national title is taking a toll on her. It’s not getting any easier being a college basketball coach, especially given the excesses within the men’s game the last 50 years.

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