Having rediscovered the love of basketball, my 13-year-old recently tried out for her middle school team and made the final cut. This will be her first organized play in several years, dating to the phase when she was a veritable tomboy who lived and breathed hoops.
Naturally, my interest in basketball featuring females has risen again and is likely to remain elevated until I no longer have a family member involved. At that point, basketball featuring males will reclaim its prior market share of my hardwood affection, approximately 99 percent.
Sequoia dreams of playing in college and proceeding to the WNBA. I'm grateful that such opportunities for scholarships and paychecks even exist for little girls. I'll do everything in my power to help her pursue her goals, while rooting like crazy for every team she makes.
But the growth of women's basketball doesn't rest on folks like me, who are into it primarily because a relative or friend is involved. The sport's popularity will increase only by cultivating more genuine fans, whose attraction runs deeper than personal connections. One of the best ways to do that is through a simple act, a move that would make the game more exciting and increase the players' efficiency:
Bring the basket closer to the ground.
Don't just take my word for it. That's also the opinion of Geno Auriemma, UConn's legendary women's basketball coach.
"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 told the Hartford Courant on Monday. "How do help improve that? Lower the rim [from 10 feet]."
No one has more authority on women's basketball than Auriemma. UConn had posted one winning season in its history when he arrived in 1985. Under his direction, the Huskies have reached 13 Final Fours, won seven national titles and produced four undefeated seasons. A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, as well as the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Auriemma has reeled off winning streaks of 90 games and 70 games during his tenure.
Clearly, he doesn't make the suggestion because his teams are struggling to compete.
Auriemma merely acknowledges a fact that's sometimes difficult to concede, especially in politically-correct tones. But you can note physical differences between males and females without going Neanderthal and ranting about the "weaker sex." We do it in softball, where base paths are shorter and fences are closer than in baseball. And we do it in other aspects of hoops, where women use a smaller ball and shoot shorter 3-pointers.
Lowering the rim would be the same vein, an accommodation that's largely unnoticed in another sport.
"Do you think the average fan knows that the net is lower in women's volleyball than men's volleyball?" Auriemma said. "It's about seven inches shorter so the women have the chance for the same kind of success at the net [as the men]."
The tight bodies in form-fitting uniforms play a role, but that's not the only reason women's volleyball is more popular than its counterpart. Players don't enjoy the widespread exposure of women's college basketball and the WNBA, but their athleticism and explosiveness are easier to see, certainly more evident than if their net was identical to the men's height.
The spikes and blocks that make women's volleyball such a thrilling sport to watch wouldn't be as dynamic -- or occur as frequently -- if players had to rise an extra seven inches. Likewise, women's basketball players would be capable of more dunks and high-flying finishes if their target was closer.
It's not rocket science.
"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."
The change would be a pain at facilities where rims and backboards are fixed, mounted to the wall. Switching to adjustable apparatus would create a cost, an expense that administrators might consider unwarranted given the tight economic conditions facing many sports programs. But the payoff would be worthwhile, a game that's more fun to play and watch.
Dropping the rim wouldn't decrease expectations or lower standards.
It would raise the level of enjoyment for our girls. And their fans.
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