NCAA Commissions Study on Improving Women's Basketball

Remember last fall, when there was a minor uproar because Geno Auriemma had the temerity to suggest that the rims should be lowered in the women's game? Turns out, the guy with eight national championships might know a little something about the sport he wants to see succeed.

We bring this up because of a recent white paper from Val Ackerman, the founding president of the WNBA, who was hired as a consultant by the NCAA championship staff about ways to make the women's game more appealing to a wider audience. One of the many solid suggestions had to do with the current rules. Details via the NCAA's website.

Ackerman’s research showed that during the 2012-13 season, Division I women’s teams shot an average of 38.9% on field-goal attempts and 30.57% on three-point attempts, both all-time lows. Scoring also hit an all-time low of 62.12 points per team per game, down nearly eight points from 1981-82. Historically, shooting and strong fundamentals have been staples of the women’s game, so the trends are noteworthy.

To address these declines, Ackerman recommends that playing rules be re-examined with an eye to speeding up the women’s game, reducing physicality and making it easier for teams to score. She also recommends that a “rules laboratory” be created so that radical rules suggestions (such as lowering the rim) can be properly tested.

Sound familiar? Here's what Auriemma said last October:

"Let's say the average men's player is 6-5 and the average woman is 5-11. 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," he said. "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."

Ackerman offered suggestions about the NCAA Tournament (the Final Four should move back to a Friday-Sunday schedule), possibly reducing the tournament field, and whether the tourney should shift to a different date altogether to avoid getting lost in the men's spectacle.

In terms of growing the sport, Ackerman points to the '90s Huskies team for playing a vital role.

The next significant period of growth came with the emergence of Connecticut’s program in the 1990′s. This led to the Huskies’ storied rivalry with Tennessee, and, according to Ackerman, the heightened interest this match-up created contributed, in turn, to the launch of the WNBA in 1997.

The next period of growth came in the early to mid-2000s. The 2004 national title game between Connecticut and Tennessee drew an all-time high rating of 4.28 on ESPN.

"Overall, there was a very strong feeling among the people I spoke with that the game needs a sense of energy and urgency,” Ackerman wrote. “Stakeholders are keen on pursuing growth and revenue strategies that will allow women’s basketball to maintain its luster and better stand on its own two feet. What’s exciting about women’s basketball is that it has commercial possibilities that other women’s college sports simply do not have.”

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