Geno Auriemma has been known to speak his mind on, well, just about everything. He previously called UConn fans "spoiled" and on Monday he spoke frankly about the future of the women's game. Specifically: how to grow a sport that's been pretty stagnant over the last decade or so. First up: lower the rim. No, seriously.
"The game hasn't grown as much as it should in the last 10 years and much of the old guard doesn't want to hear it," Auriemma said Monday according to the Hartford Courant. "In 2002, we played the Final Four in front of 30,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"Now, 10 years later , we [the women's Final Four] can't sell out the Conseco Field House [in Indianapolis]? So how much has the game possibly improved, in terms of how badly people want to see it?"
It's a fair point. And if your argument is that there are more distractions -- internet, video games, Gangham style dance-offs -- that doesn't hold. Football is as popular as ever and men's basketball also continues to grow. So why the disparity in viewership?
"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," Auriemma said. "How do help improve that? Lower the rim. 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]."
It's a fantastic point. Simplifying it even further: when you and your non-jumping buddies play basketball, is it more fun on 10-foot rims or the dunk goals out behind the gym? It's the latter, obviously. And while we're not comparing women's basketball to a pick-up game, the overall point -- and the one Auriemma's making above -- is the same: excitement would go a long way in getting people interested in women's basketball.
Would lowering the rim suddenly fix everything? No, of course not, but it would be a start. Why do women use smaller basketballs than the men? Because, in general, they have smaller hands. Same holds for height.
"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."
Auriemma plans to propose his idea to the rules committee in the spring but concedes that many coaches may not be in favor of it because the speed of the game might outpace the athleticism of most of its players.
"I wouldn't say this is an active topic of conversation among the coaches yet. But it's going to be," Auriemma said.