University of Connecticut Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma has suggested that offensive deficiencies are keeping the women’s game from growing. His solution? Lower the rims to nine feet. I have to applaud him for making one of the dumbest practical suggestions in years from someone who’s listened to.
Look, I like Geno — even when says, you know, stuff. He respects women and he respects the game. That said, it doesn’t mean giving the women’s game a rim job isn’t a bad idea.
Coach Auriemma’s premise comes from the idea that if the women’s game was patterned more like that of the NBA or top men’s NCAA programs (obviously we’re ignoring international ball) that people would start filling the stands. This, of course, ignores the amazing tide of fear and/or misogyny that permeates sports. Women have a smaller pool of potential seat fillers to begin with simply because an amazingly large percentage of the potential audience (still) refuses to consider women’s sports as legitimate. How will essentially making the sport seem like they are playing at the proverbial “kiddie’s table” entice this population to reconsider as opposed to protesting that they are no longer playing “real” basketball?
Geno also says, “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.”
This is a little disingenuous. It isn’t about layups. No one gives a flying wombat about layups. It’s about dunks. The argument is that more dunks will bring more butts to fill more seats. After all, the men dunk all the time. I suppose if you like watching NBA dunkball, then the argument may have some legs. However, the fans that prefer women’s basketball have tended to be more traditional — more Naismithian. They are also the ones who prefer men’s college basketball or FIBA over the product of the NBA.
Of course this ignores the practical difficulties in switching to 9-foot rims. Where are these future women dunkers supposed to practice honing their skills? Certainly not on public or school playgrounds. Those communities who install special 9-foot rims in parks and in schools will find that these are the first rims bent down into unusability. Even now, a multi-court with 8-to-12 rims will only have a handful that are usable, the rest having been bent down from over-compensating showboats. So, the shorter rims won’t be available for girls to practice on. Or…let’s look at the hoops over garages. In a family with boys and girls who each want to play basketball, which height rim is going to rule? Seriously.
Geno’s suggestion also ignores the WNBA and FIBA, somewhat disrespecting the world-class stars who have proven the 10-foot rims are just fine. Given some of the put-women-in-their-place attitude by some in the FIBA hierarchy in the recent past, they’d probably appreciate making basketball more girly for the women.
How to keep growing the game? Time. As is often reported, the NBA played in most-empty arenas for a very long time, being the red-headed stepchild to MLB and NFL aficionados. Forging respect for women’s sports is a multi-generational and multi-sport endeavor. It can’t just be with basketball if respect for the women is to firmly take root. It’s the biggest gorilla in the room, but it can’t be the only one if hearts and minds are to be won. And I said “won” — not coerced, and not manipulated. This needs to be about long-term vision, not transient fluctuations.
Let’s also not overlook something very important: the women’s players are getting bigger, taller, stronger, more skilled. In another generation, the ten-foot rim likely won’t be a problem — not even for Geno.
The simple fact is that the rim height is fine at ten feet, now. It’s how the game was designed. The actual problem is that the men have outgrown the initial concept. In fact, they should be playing with 11-foot-high rims on courts about 12% larger in all dimensions. This would ease the congestion and, yes, makes scoring baskets tougher. It instills a need for skill and teamwork instead of isolation and games of in-your-face.
The question we should be asking isn’t how to make the women’s game more like the NBA, it’s how to get the males to man-up and play more like the women.
Photo: Aaron Vazquez (CC BY 2.0) via Wikipedia