Friday, April 20, 2018
Sports

Women's college basketball could see big changes

Two years before the Women's Final Four brings college basketball to Tampa, the sport's leaders are taking a step back and asking if changes — to nearly any aspect of their game — can create a spark.

"I recommend … to approve and initiate a package of innovative and progressive changes … in an effort to capture (or re-capture) the imagination of fans, sponsors and the media," former WNBA president Val Ackerman wrote in a 52-page white paper released this month.

The NCAA hired Ackerman in November to assess the state of the game. She spent six months interviewing coaches, college presidents, athletic directors and other advocates of the game.

The NCAA women's basketball committee is set to meet this week to determine which, if any, of the recommendations it will implement.

Basketball is competing for attention with other women's sports. A recent study showed about 7.1 million U.S. girls ages 8-17 participate in basketball, just ahead of soccer (7 million) and volleyball (6.5 million).

"We need to reclaim basketball as a first option for young girls," Ackerman wrote.

Her recommendations run the gamut from rules changes — shortening the shot clock to 24 seconds, playing four 10-minute quarters instead of two halves and lowering the rim — to structural changes to the NCAA Tournament, which has had attendance issues at neutral sites in early rounds.

Ackerman pointed to downward statistical trends in the game. Overall, shooting is down from 44.2 percent in 1985-86 to 38.9 percent this past season, and 3-point shooting hit an all-time low at 30.6 percent.

Attendance, too, is down. In 1999-2000, five programs averaged 10,000-plus fans at home games. But this past season, only Tennessee did so. Ackerman also cited a 2011 study commissioned by the NCAA that showed 53 percent of women's basketball fans were 50 or older.

The sport's leaders seem willing to re-examine any aspect of the current structure, including the format and timing of the season. The season currently runs parallel to the men's. It could be shifted to a January-April model (or even to the fall) to move out of the men's shadow.

Ackerman also studied moving the tournament's first and second rounds to the campuses of the top 16 seeds, which would help attendance but likely add to the elite programs' dominance.

"You get into attendance vs. upsets," said USF coach Jose Fernandez, who is active in national coaches' associations. "I like the idea of keeping regionals in the same sites for two or three years so you develop some fan bases there. If you're going to play on home floors, how many upsets are you going to have?"

Ackerman also looked at decreasing a team's scholarships from 15 to 13, hoping to lessen the gap between the perennial powerhouses and rest of the nation.

"I think that could maybe spread the wealth," said Fernandez, adding coaches have long considered adding measures already in the men's game such as a 10-second backcourt call and five-second closely guarded rule.

Ackerman also suggested eight-team regions at two sites for the second weekend of the tournament and holding the Final Four at a permanent home, like baseball in Omaha, Neb., and softball in Oklahoma City.

Such changes could take a few years to implement, but a smaller measure that could be in place by Tampa in 2015 is shifting the Final Four games from their current Sunday-Tuesday model — the day after the corresponding men's games — to Friday-Sunday. That would allow the games to be more of a weekend event.

Ackerman's report has started a conversation, which coaches hope is a first step toward changes that can improve women's basketball.

"We need a jump-start for our sport right now," Beth Bass, chief executive officer of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, told the Associated Press. "There will be some components that will be a lightning rod for discussions by our membership."

Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, said he has not received a request from the NCAA committee concerning a date change for the Final Four.

"However, based off some of the recent published reports," he said, "we've begun looking at the feasibility on our end so that we can provide an expeditious answer if we're asked."

Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]ay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.

Comments

Friday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosXfinity: ToyotaCare 250 qualifying4 p.m.FS1Monster Energy Cup: Toyota Owners 400 qualifying5:30 p.m.FS1Xfinity: ToyotaCare 2507 p.m.FS1BaseballRoyals at Tigers1 p.m.MLBTwins at Rays7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMIndians at Orioles7 p.m.MLBMarlins at ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 19

Thursday’s scoreboardBaseballDixie Hollins 8, Canterbury 0Northeast 13, Lakewood 3Calvary Christian 5, Berkeley Prep 2
Updated: 6 hours ago
Out early: Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Out early: Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions.The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 at...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

The Lightning's Victor Hedman is a finalist for the second consecutive year for the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman in the league. The other two finalists are Drew Doughty of the Kings and P.K. Subban of the Predators, it was announced Thu...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

TAMPA — The second period was not even four minutes old Wednesday night when Devils right wing Patrick Maroon skated all alone toward Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a moment that could turn a game and even a series.A goal and the score would be tie...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Former UCF and Lakewood High standout Shaquem Griffin understandably has been focused on the NFL draft next week in Arlington, Tex., where he is projected as a potential second-day pick.But the Lightning's playoff run  hasn't escaped his attenti...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

The 2018 NFL schedule won't be released until 8 p.m. tonight, but the Bucs' eight home games were posted early — and presumably accidentally — on the team's site, showing what would be a daunting start to the upcoming season.Multiple outl...
Published: 04/19/18
Bay area has ‘hit show’ again, thanks to USF

Bay area has ‘hit show’ again, thanks to USF

For the first time since its season commenced, the USF baseball team enters a weekend as the Bulls' feature sports attraction.Basketball ended last month, and spring football ended last Saturday, meaning would-be baseball fans no longer have reason t...
Published: 04/19/18
The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mallex Smith has style.Effervescent personality. Pop culture hipness. Sense of fashion with accoutrements.Now the Rays are going to find out if he has game.More specifically, enough game to be a front-line outfielder, even an i...
Published: 04/19/18