Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fixing Women's Basketball: Solutions Are Simple

UT vs. UConn used to be the face of the women's game. No more.
For years, I've been a fan of women's basketball--and not just at the college level, where it is the most entertaining. That's beginning to flag, however, for a lot of reasons, many of them highlighted by former USABasketball and WNBA President Val Ackerman. She conducted a recent study (story here) on how to reinvigorate the women's game and has reached some reasonable conclusions that I suspect will be ignored for the reason most of these studies are ignored: officials want to protect their fiefdoms.

I came to the women's game in the late 1970s when, as a sportswriter, the women's game(s) offered a change of pace, a freshness, a look at a kind of purity in sport the men had lost long ago. I covered women's basketball, tennis, volleyball and a couple other sports (softball was not one of them then) with enthusiasm because of the new perspective.

Then came the University of Tennessee's basketball success and I was a semi-regular in Knoxville to see those great women's teams.

These days, though, UT is not on the top tier and the game in general has lost its appeal to me. I think a change began (for men and women) with the big, baggy uniforms and the shot clock, which I've always disliked. The women's basketball shrunk to four-fifths the size of the men's ball and that made sense, but the basket remains at 10 feet where almost no women can dunk. That is silly. It needs to be lowered, allowing one of the most exciting plays in the game to be more than a rare curiosity engaged in by Candice Parker and that monster from Baylor. I'd like to see it at nine feet.

Attendence is often dismal. From the story: "Only one team, Tennessee, averaged more than 10,000 fans last season. Of the 343 women’s teams in Division I, 205 averaged fewer than 1,000 spectators and 90 averaged fewer than 500." Some averaged fewer than 100 spectators. Almost all needed financial help from their schools or football programs.Tennessee's attendance (at a 24,000-seat arena) has declined in recent years.

Good shooting was always a hallmark in women's basketball, but shooting percentages at the top levels of college basketball last year were in the 30s (the three-point show was a flat 30) and the game is, frankly, too slow, the scores too low, the players boring and their uniforms far too large. This is the only sport where the athletes don't wear uniforms that fit (men and women). Track and volleyball uniforms are form-fitting--almost too much so.

Finally, the officiating in women's basketball, even in the Final 4, is just about the worst in organized sport from my perspective. I have no idea why these officials can't be consistent and predictable, but their lack of same creates confusion among the players and coaches and anger among the fans. Better training is an absolute necessity.

I still enjoy the women's game and will continue to for a while. Unless they don't change it.

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