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Ackerman Schools Women’s Hoops in NCAA White Paper

By [Wednesday, June 19th, 2013]

Val Ackerman nailed it in her NCAA white paper released yesterday offering a comprehensive assessment of intercollegiate women’s basketball.  Putting aside the details (and of course that’s where the devil is), she advocates rethinking the game from top to bottom:  playing rules, game presentation, season length and timing, post-season tournament logistics, player comportment, even off-court activities.  A key message is that what works for the men’s game doesn’t necessarily work for the women’s.  Schools, athletic departments, coaches, and all who promote the game need to think “outside the court.”

There’s no shame in tinkering with the game and all its details to improve the fan experience.  The most successful pro sports leagues undertake an off-season reality check every year to recalibrate the game for the benefit of the fans.  Look at the NFL’s perennial playing rules adjustments and improvements to the game-day stadium experience.  And contrast Major League Baseball’s lackadaisical enforcement of its own pace-of-play rules, allowing games to drag on for hours, undoubtedly a factor in the downward trend in baseball game attendance.

Just as importantly, Ackerman’s report highlights basketball’s preeminence as the top-ranked sport in terms of girls participation at the middle school and high school level, offering the greatest potential to fulfill Title IX’s promise at the college level. Perversely, however, Title IX’s guarantee of equal funding for women’s sports has fostered complacency at the college level, stifling innovation and reducing the urgency to market the game.  Indeed, one area where the report is somewhat thin is the lack of concrete recommendations for marketing to the youth demographic in a way that will generate spectator interest on top of playing interest.

There’s plenty of work for lawyers in here.  Implementing even a fraction of Ackerman’s proposals will require renegotiating tournament schedules, broadcast agreements, coaching contracts, and marketing relationships.  All and all, Ackerman has produced a solid blueprint for taking women’s hoops to the next level.