Women's hoops in doldrums, with many suggestions on changes

Jun 18, 2013 By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

A view from the ceiling looking down on the court of the New Orleans Arena at the moment the final horn sounded giving Connecticut its eighth NCAA women's basketball championship this spring revealed one thing: The arena was half empty. And the New Orleans Arena only seats 15,000 or so fans, about the same capacity as the Arena-Auditorium at the University of Wyoming. TV ratings for the women's game are flat or down.

Quite a contrast from this year's men's Final Four, where tickets were rare, 75,350 fans set a Georgia Dome attendance record, and the sport delivered the best overall tournament-to-date television ratings since 2005.

The NCAA is worried that interest in women's basketball is waning.

So, what do you think could be done to increase interest in the sport?

All options, it seems, are on the table.

The sport has changed before. In 1901, the first publication of official Basket Ball for Women said, "Court is split into 3 equal zones with between 5-10 women on each side. No snatching or batting of ball. Holding the ball for more than 3 seconds was a foul. Only three dribbles before a shot or pass." The basket was really a basket, with a pull chain to eject a made hoop.

Iowa was famous for its six-on-six version of the women's high school game, last played in 1993, where three players remained on one side of the court, always playing defense, while three teammates were responsible for scoring on the other other side of the court.

Val Ackerman, a former president of USA Basketball and the W.N.B.A., spent the last six months studying the women's college game. She wants to broaden the appeal of the sport from families and older fans to students and casual fans.

All over the sports blogosphere are some of her suggestions to revitalize the average women's tournament attendance (5,466 last season) which was on the lower half of attendance figures for the NCAA in the past 30 years.

Her ideas include changing the seeding of the tournament, having Sweet 16 games played at the home sites of the higher seeds, moving the women's Final Four to Europe or at least to a common site every year similar to what men's baseball does annually by playing the College World Series in Omaha.

Also in favor with Ackerman is cutting down the number of regular-season games. She proposes to cut scholarships on teams from 15 to 13 in order to disperse talent.

And that's not all. A 24-second clock and 10-minute quarters were also part of her advisory report, which included hundreds of interviews with people involved in collegiate athletics, according to CBS Sports and the New York Times.

Perhaps her most controversial proposal is exploring whether the height of the women's basket should be lowered to 9 feet or 9 feet.

Would you be more apt to catch a women's game at Central Wyoming College or a Lady Wolverine game if women could jam like the guys?

That idea has been talked about before, according to Serol Stauffenberg, the women's coach at CWC.

"I think the girls game has progressed so much and there isn't quite as much disparity other than general strength and quickness," RHS basketball coach Ron Porter said, adding that he doesn't know whether any more changes need to be made in the women's game.

Women today play with a smaller ball, but in 2011, the NCAA standardized the men's and women's 3-point line at 20 feet, 9 inches.

"People equate excitement to scoring, and I certainly disagree with that," Porter said, believing that there is beauty in a defensive game.

Purists agree with Porter. But from 1967 to 1976 dunks were not allowed in men's college hoops. One thing's for sure, the NCAA will do its best to get its money out of the women's game. It may not be long before we see high school and college women regularly hanging on the rims, just like the guys.

Have a great sport week. Go Big Red!

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