FIBA, Please Don’t Marginalize Women’s Basketball

As the 2010 FIBA Women’s World Championship was drawing to a close, FIBA issued an announcement from its women’s basketball conference:

“One of the conclusions was that we need to change the rules if we want to make the game a bit more attractive,” said FIBA Secretary General and IOC member Patrick Baumann.

“We have the smaller ball and now it’s time to lower the rim. It will be tested.

“The game as it is is a good game, but we have a large majority of women’s basketball players that don’t have that size and there are questions whether the game is as attractive as it really could be if you were able to play over the basket rather than under the basket.”

While I have to begrudgingly agree that it’s better to test than to simply make a snap judgment, I think this is a spectacularly bad suggestion.

Women’s basketball has a hard enough time being taken seriously. The smaller ball is often derided (still) as proof that women can’t play “real” basketball–this despite tests that suggest that the smaller size and weight of the women’s ball actually makes it slightly harder to make a basket for non-swished shots. I think FIBA, the WNBA, and the NCAA made a mistake going to the smaller ball.

It’s true that, when compared to the men, women’s basketball players typically don’t have the size that male players do, but it should be noted that the players are getting bigger. In less than a generation I wouldn’t be surprised if the size of an average WNBA team matches that of a NBA team from the 1950s–and those guys seemed to do OK with a 10-foot rim. It could also be argued that many countries outside of the US are now fielding taller front-courts than the Americans and that, overall, their bigs are more versatile. I can’t help wondering if this is a motivation for the suggestion: to find a way to level the court against the Americans.

On to more practical matters: let’s assume that they eventually agree to lower the rim for women. That’s fine for courts that have easily adjustable rims. But what about the playgrounds, parks, and schoolyards? Do you honestly think that in a land without Title IX forcing equipment parity that girls and women will have equal access to their own specially-sized courts? Really? Isn’t it more likely that the boys will do hot-dog dunking and end up bending the rims, leaving them in disrepair while being slightly kinder to their own 10-foot rims?

If there was to be any change to basketball on a major level, I’d like to see trapezoidal keys be the norm everywhere, including the NBA and WNBA. It helps open up the game a little. I’d also like the 3-point arc moved back to at least the current NBA location. A lot of women players are already shooting from that distance and beyond anyway.

Disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of “above the rim” play. I find it rather boring, actually. I’m not against the occasional dunk, but when it’s a frequent part of the game that shows that something else is amiss. Perhaps we should raise men’s rims to 3.5 m (about 11.5 feet) instead. I’m all for that. Make ’em earn those dunks.

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