Val Ackerman conducted more than 100 interviews over a six-month period and unearthed “a tremendous appetite for change” within the rank and file of women’s college basketball.
The former president of the WNBA and USA Basketball was hired by the NCAA to conduct an assessment of the sport. Her findings were presented in the form of a “white paper.”
In the process, she never got around to speaking with yours truly. Hey, no problem. I still can have a say on these matters.
Research showed that Division I teams collectively shot 38.9 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent on 3-pointers — both all-time lows.
The report recommended accelerating the game’s pace and reducing physicality. The idea of establishing incentives and awards for shooting accuracy was broached.
To increase parity, the report suggested reducing scholarships from 15 to 13.
What I say: Any change that encourages a faster pace and more scoring is worthwhile. Adopting a 10-second backcourt rule is long overdue. A 24-second shot clock might be too fast. I’d be willing to try, provided it’s combined with a wider foul lane and more stringent officiating of perimeter play. Hands off the guards. They’re the engine that will drive any scoring upgrade.
The scholarship reduction is as overdue as the 10-second rule. Too many schools don’t use their full allotment. Those that don’t use 13 should be penalized by losing another scholarship. These grants-in-aid are the hard-earned treasure of Title IX. They’re a terrible thing to waste.
Finally, any awards for shooting accuracy should be established in conjunction with the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame — not the Naismith hall as the report mentioned. The sport has its own hall here in Knoxville. Use it.
The report recommends that the Division I tournament return to a Friday/Sunday format for Final Four games and explore using a two-site super regional format for the second week. Ackerman’s research also showed returning to the top 16 seeds hosting first- and second-round games had appeal.
The idea of lower-seeded teams facing off in the early rounds was considered, along with shifting the tournament’s time frame to create more separation from the men’s tournament.
Other thoughts included combining the Women’s Final Four with the men’s event on a one-time trial basis and establishing a multi-year site for the event.
What I say: Other than returning to the Friday/Sunday format, tinkering with the Final Four
wouldn’t be a priority. The event has blossomed beyond my wildest imagination.
Everything else is worth considering. Having lower-seeded teams play each other at the outset would create better matchups. Allow teams to host those games. A two-site super regional sounds intriguing.
Shifting the time frame is worth a try — several tries if necessary — to see what happens.
Another suggestion: Lower tournament ticket prices and raise the premium on host schools promoting games.
The report encourages more aggressive sales, marketing and promotional strategies.
Developing a system for the sharing of good ideas is suggested, along with creating a separate sales approach for corporate partners.
What I say: Marketing, marketing, marketing. There’s been plenty of talk about the subject over the years but not enough action in all corners of the sport. Given coaches’ salaries, their involvement should be mandatory.
The Play 4Kay initiative has shown that the sport can support a cause in impressive fashion. Time to conceive a plan of action regarding young girls. A better connection with that demographic is crucial.
The strategy could create a tug-of-war with the TV people over game times. If so, the 9 p.m. time slot needs to lose decisively. I’ve covered enough of those games to realize that they don’t appeal to any fans. A better idea would be scheduling the occasional week-day matinee — much like the WNBA and minor league baseball — and try to fill the seats with school children.
The Governanceand management
The report said that the governance of the sport is fragmented and in need of a more suitable structure.
A clear strategy is advisable for handling a variety of issues, including revenue, marketing and the on-court production.
What I say: Before renaming or realigning committees, the sport needs a commissioner. The person could help implement change while engendering ideas and forward thinking.
Watching the SEC’s evolution under Mike Slive has inspired this. Finding a person of comparable heft would be challenging but worth the effort. I’ll throw a name out for the sake of discussion: Former Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp.
The report states the case for charting its next phase of growth via “rigorous self-examination.”
What I say: A casual examination of Ackerman’s findings noted three distinct phases of growth. Two of them involved the Tennessee-Connecticut rivalry.
It’s time for the two programs to resume playing. It’s been more than six years since they last met. Set it up as a fund-raiser on a neutral court if necessary. The time off might help renew interest. The publicity and resulting excitement certainly wouldn’t hurt.