Huth: Fixin' to improve hoops
Val Ackerman, the first president of the WNBA, was hired by the NCAA in November to assess the state of women’s college basketball. In a report submitted June 15, Ackerman proposed a variety of changes that addressed such areas as sites and format for the NCAA tournament, stagnant postseason attendance, length of the regular season schedule, number of scholarships and the decline in scoring. Women’s basketball beat writer Jeff Huth offers his take on Ackerman’s suggestions:
— We like the idea of returning the Final Four to a Friday-Sunday schedule. The men’s title game always has been a tough act to follow, and keeping the women’s final on a Tuesday leaves it perennially vulnerable to being an afterthought.
— One of Ackerman’s more radical postseason proposals would create a two-site super regional for the second week of the tournament. There would be eight teams at each super regional, with sites awarded for three years at a time. If the overall goal is to grow national interest in the women’s game — and one way is to place marquee events in more markets — doesn’t staging the tournament at fewer sites work against that?
— By historical measures, current NCAA tournament attendance is not healthy. The average for all rounds in 2013 was 5,466 — ranking 17th in the 32 years the NCAA has staged a women’s tournament. That’s a compelling argument for thinking outside the box, which leads to ...
— An Ackerman idea that, given the competitive imbalance so evident in the early rounds of the women’s tournament, deserves consideration: The bottom 32 teams square off in 16 first-round games, with survivors facing the Nos. 17-32 seeds in the second round. Those winners then are paired against the top 16 seeds. The plus is more competitive games in the early rounds rather than the blowouts far too common before the Sweet 16. The drawback is that 16 teams — the best 16 — sit idle for two rounds even as another round is added overall. Ackerman currently doesn’t recommend this change, but it’s clear she put it up for discussion because parity in the women’s game is so far out of whack.
— We agree with Ackerman that less is more when it comes to regular season schedules (she wants two fewer games) and scholarship limits (from 15 to 13). Is it really necessary for student-athletes with full academic loads, near-daily practice and/or treatment schedules, and typically more than half of their games on the road to play 36 times in a season? Not if you truly have the well-being of the student-athlete at heart. Reducing scholarships by two per team would address the parity dilemma by spreading more talent around. Fewer players on scholarship also might lessen the growing pace of transfers. Three-deep rosters are overkill and not much fun if you’re among the five third-teamers.
— During 2012-13, women’s teams cumulatively shot 39 percent and averaged an all-time-low 62.1 points. That’s nearly eight points fewer than the first season the NCAA sponsored women’s basketball in 1981-82. Ackerman recommends that the NCAA adopt a 24-second shot clock, but we’re skeptical about whether quicker shots translate into fewer misses and more points. Still, we’re open to giving it a test on an experimental basis. Maybe a conference or two could volunteer to play league games with such a rule and see what develops. Ackerman also favors four 10-minute quarters instead of two halves. Window dressing. Doesn’t address any real problem and, thus, doesn’t fix any.
Looking ahead ... Illini style
Important dates for Matt Bollant’s Illinois women’s basketball program:
Monday — Golf outing fundraiser
Sept. 29 — First day of official, full-team practice
Nov. 8 — Season opener
Nov. 12 — Home opener
Nov. 13 — National Signing Day
Jan. 2 — Big Ten opener
March 22-23 —NCAA tournament first round
April 6 — Final Four