LOWER THE RIM IN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL. In the past I have been close-minded to discussions regarding “how to fix women’s sports”—especially engaging in conversations with males who do not respect the women’s game.
I certainly do not believe altering uniforms for women to parade in scantily clad attire in a Lingerie Football League or upcoming Bikini Basketball League advances women’s athletics, but I will leave that for a separate discussion.
University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma recently spoke with the Hartford Courant about increasing the appeal of women’s college basketball.
He believes one way to draw more fans is to increase offensive efficiency by lowering the basketball rim.
When Auriemma speaks, people listen. Simply type his name and this topic in a search engine and notice thousands of entries.
The famed coach does not need an introduction, but during his illustrious 27-year tenure coaching UConn’s women’s basketball program he has compiled an 804-129 (.862) record, by far the best winning percentage among active NCAA Division I coaches. His success includes seven national titles, 13 Final Fours, and four perfect seasons (1995, 2002, 2009, and 2010).
This summer Auriemma led the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team to an unprecedented fifth consecutive gold medal. The 12-member squad included six former Huskies that elevated their game under his tutelage—(pictured left to right) Asjha Jones, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and Tina Charles.
When Auriemma speaks, you listen.
According to Auriemma, “what makes fans not want to watch women’s basketball is that some of the players can’t shoot and they miss layups and that forces the game to slow down.”
He clearly wasn’t speaking about his Huskies who do not have an issue with offensive execution, averaging 29.4 more points (1,116 total) than last season’s opponents.
However, Auriemma was referring to the women’s game as a whole. Statistics do not lie. Only 11 Division I teams shot 45% or better from the field during the 2011-12 season. In contrast, 109 men’s Division I teams eclipsed the mark.
“How do (we) help improve that? Lower the rim (from 10 feet). Do you think the average fan knows that the net is lower in women’s volleyball than men’s volleyball? It’s about seven inches shorter so the women have the chance for the same kind of success at the net (as the men),” Auriemma stated.
He continued his analogy with softball stating that the sport does not require women to play with 90-foot base paths like baseball.
Auriemma favors lowering the rim less than a foot.
“Let’s say the average men’s player is 6-5 and the average woman is 5-11,” Auriemma said. “Let’s lower the rim seven inches; let’s say 7.2 inches to honor Title IX (instituted in 1972). If you lower it, the average fan likely wouldn’t even notice it.
“Now there would be fewer missed layups because the players are actually at the rim (when they shoot). Shooting percentages go up. There would be more tip-ins.”
This spring, Auriemma will propose several changes to the NCAA rules committee and ask that teams be allowed to scrimmage with the lower basket, a 24-second shot clock and an eight-second backcourt rule.
However, he does not expect many coaches to support his propositions stating, “they believe the level of athleticism in the game couldn’t keep up with the faster game.”
The outspoken coach continued expressing dissatisfaction with the women’s game pointing out areas that he believes could benefit from change.
“And I hate the smaller ball (that women use). They either need to change the ball or change the rims. The bigger ball sits on the rim longer (for layups). But no one wants to hear that.”
Auriemma’s proposed changes extend beyond the game. He supports being selective regarding cities that annually host the four women’s basketball regionals and Final Fours.
“I’d look for places where people traditionally support the sport … Go places where people already love women’s basketball….
“The things that the sites learn (from hosting an event) are wasted because they may never get it back.”
He pointed out that the women’s Final Four sold out the 30,000-seat Alamodome in 2002, but in 2011 struggled to fill a much smaller Conseco Field House, which seats just more than 18,000.
“So how much has the game possibly improved, in terms of how badly people want to see it?” Auriemma asks.
“The system is not working and when something isn’t working, you should work to make changes,” Auriemma told the Hartford Courant. “If the changes don’t work, well at least you tried. It’s a lot better than just complaining about everything all the time.”
Most of the conversation following Auriemma’s interview has been focused on his solution to lower the rim to increase offensive efficiency and expand the women’s basketball fan base.
While I have heard this suggestion before, it was not until it was uttered from the 24-time National Coach of the Year and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, that I gave it consideration.
My unwavering stance has been that there is nothing wrong with the women’s game; it should not be compared to men’s basketball. Adjusting the rim is tantamount to declaring the women’s game inferior and saying female athletes need assistance to excel at their sport.
As a college player, I never thought I needed a lower rim to increase my field goal percentage or play the game above the rim.
Furthermore, I do not think a lower rim will result in the person, who argues men’s basketball is more explosive and entertaining, actually supporting the women’s game.
There is a logistics issue to take into consideration as well. What economic impact would it cause in communities? Every basketball goal in every neighborhood, recreational facility, high school, etc. would need to be reconfigured.
We certainly would not want to limit opportunities for young girls and ostracize them from developing their game, often alongside boys. How many female athletes do you know with childhood stories of playing pickup basketball on the neighborhood courts with guys? I know that was the case for me, and those games made me a better player and inspired my love for the sport.
While I oppose lowering the rim, I agree that “the system” in women’s sports as a whole is not perfect and that something must be done. The question becomes what is that something?
The most recent women’s professional soccer league, WPS, folded this year after three seasons despite the U.S. Women’s National Team being a 2011 finalist in the FIFA Women’s World Cup and earning a third-straight Olympic gold medal in London. Soccer’s elite continue to sell out U.S. arenas during their post-Olympic Fan Tribute Tour, but the sustainability of women’s professional soccer in the U.S. is unknown. The women’s golf tour is shrinking and moving more events abroad. A U.S. women’s professional softball league, National Pro Fastpitch (formerly WPSL), has been around since the late ‘90s but currently operates with just four teams.
Women’s sports have struggled to gain or keep footing on American soil. While women’s basketball benefits from a maturing professional league and collegiate powerhouses, concerns about the sport should not be ignored.
Given the larger context, I think Auriemma’s suggestions should be reviewed by the NCAA. The rationale behind host cities for the regionals and Final Four makes perfect sense. NCAA women’s programs should be allowed to experiment with a 24-second (versus 30-second) shot clock and 8-second backcourt rule to speed up play. Additionally, there isn’t any harm in testing a lower basket—one that is more in scale to female athletes heights, wingspans and physical abilities. Auriemma’s recommendations are worthy of review given his nearly unmatched coaching successes.
More importantly the women’s game deserves every opportunity to succeed.
What’s your opinion? Should the NCAA lower the rim for women’s basketball? Would that make the sport more entertaining? Would it make any difference at all?
Photo credit: US PRESSWIRE
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