June 25, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Matt Daniel agrees with Val Ackerman. Women’s college basketball needs to change.
“We’ve got to start entertaining a lot more,” said Daniel, pointing toward his second season as Marshall’s coach. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”
I asked Daniel for his reactions to the Division I Women’s Basketball White Paper issued last week by Ackerman, a former player at Virginia, past WNBA president, Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and finalist for the new Big East Conference commissioner’s post.
Ackerman, hired by the NCAA as a consultant to report on the state of the Division I game, spent about six months interviewing college presidents, coaches, athletic administrators, TV network executives and other women’s hoops advocates.
The result was a 52-page report (available on NCAA.com) that recommends “a package of innovative and progressive changes … in an effort to capture (or re-capture) the imagination of fans, sponsors and the media.”
Ackerman’s effort and opinions – she said there is “a tremendous appetite for change” -- have been overwhelmingly praised, and Daniel said a lot in the compelling report makes sense. Ackerman tackled subjects from the state of the game on the floor to sagging attendance to marketing to NCAA Tournament play to the sport’s governance at the Division I level.
She revealed that last season, the average shooting percentage was 38.9 (30.6 from 3-point land), the low since the NCAA took over control of women’s college basketball in 1981-82. The average team score per game was only 62 points, another low.
Among the points Ackerman advocated – or at least brought up for discussion by the Division I women’s Basketball Committee when it meets this week – included lowering the rim from 10 feet and widening the lane. She suggested the potential for a later start to the season (mid-December), major changes to the NCAA tourney format.
I asked Daniel for his reaction to some of the recommendations or thought-provoking proposals in Ackerman’s work. The Herd coach dribbled through some of the items:
The report presents the notion that the NCAA Tournament should be perhaps altered with a return to having higher-seeded teams host first- and second-round games and/or giving higher seeded teams byes to aid competitiveness in games. Ackerman suggests two so-called “super regional” sites, with two regionals (eight teams playing for two Final four berths) at one arena, and maybe anchoring the Final Four at one site at least for a time, similar to what softball has in Oklahoma City and baseball has in Omaha.
Daniel: “Besides being little a more inclusive, I think that (anchoring locations) kind of makes sense for our sport. Think about college baseball. ‘We’re trying to get to Omaha… We’re trying to get to Omaha.
I think some solidifying is needed, pods, whatever, groups being narrowed down, a situation where people know where they’re going to go ahead of time.
“We need to create an environment in our sport, a bigger atmosphere where we can create something on more solid ground. Right now (if you’re a tournament team), you don’t really know where everything is going to go … If you know and can plan ahead, where the tournament is, where your champion plays, so people can plan it around work to get there.
“Until we can get it to the level we want, say you’re going to play the Final Four in say, Charleston, W.Va., every year for a time, and then the super regionals are in an Atlanta or Denver.”
Ackerman’s report mentioned either reducing the field or having seeds 33-64 play in first-round games, creating byes or double-byes for higher-seeded teams.
Daniel: “I’m against byes … I would grow the field, I think that in order to create more of tournament-type atmosphere, where there are upsets, I think you need to grow that. I’m not a big proponent of comparing men’s and women’s basketball, because I think they’re two completely different sports anymore, but I think it’s pretty much big fish-little fish, well, there aren’t as many little fish (as in the men’s game). On the men’s side, teams get on runs, win a game, momentum is huge. We don’t have that. We need that.”
The white paper suggested several potential alterations to the game through rule changes involving the basket height, foul lane width (the WNBA and FIBA play with a wider lane than women’s college basketball), shot clock, four 10-minute quarters, etc.
Daniel: “Widening the lane would make it a more international game and make it more of a free-flowing game, and I like that. No doubt a wider lane would open up the game. It would create further help defense, create more space for shooters … that’s why the international game is the international game.
“I’m not against grind-it-out, but the further you shrink the floor or put the advantage with the defense, where they can get into position, it continues to be a grind. We have extended the 3-point line, but we’ve kept the lane the same. I don’t know that that benefits at all.
“I wouldn’t mind going to a lower goal for an exhibition game, just to see what it did. I’m not afraid to do that, because I think it would be interesting to see, to 9-6 or 9-8. I’m not afraid to do that, as long as nobody else is doing it.
“If somebody else is going to do the study, we might as well play like we play. But if they want Marshall to be the guinea pig or a program I’m in charge of, I love doing that stuff. But if someone else is doing it, I don’t want to do it.
“On the shorter clock (than the current 30 seconds), 24 is fine. You know me; I always want to play faster. It could be a little bit more (shortened from 30) and I don’t think it would hurt. I think it would fit our philosophy of the full-tilt way we want to play.”
The report advocates reducing scholarships from 15 to 13 per school, thereby spreading the talent pool, while giving those two grants-in-aid to other women’s sports.
Daniel: “My philosophy on that is not basketball-related. I’m for helping the most kids possible. Basketball is just the avenue. It depends on what your philosophy is, what you’re trying to accomplish. Hers (Ackerman’s) is just basketball. I’m not in it for just basketball and so I want to help the number of kids we can help.”
A shortening of the regular season by at least two games is suggested, as well as eliminating conference tournaments or reducing the tournaments to 4- or 8-team fields. The report also presented an opinion on opening the season in mid-December, after the college football regular season and before bowl games, and one month after the men’s hoops season opens – thereby creating more attention for women’s basketball. It also pushes back the women’s Final Four from the same weekend as the men’s Final Four
Daniel: “Shortening the season, it doesn’t matter, I don’t think. I don’t have a philosophy on that.
Start the season in mid-December? It might make a difference. I don’t know, but I’m not opposed to that at all … I don’t know if that helps or hurts (moving Final Four dates out of same weekend as the men’s), but I’m not opposed to trying something different. That doesn’t scare me at all.
“As for the conference tournaments, in our deal, the conference tournament winner goes (to the NCAA Tournament). I’m not so sure it shouldn’t be different in our sport. The conference regular-season champion should automatically go, to assure that the good team is going. I’m not sure we’re helping things the way we do it now … I do think you should keep the conference tournament. That’s a student-athlete experience. It’s not just basketball, it’s the environment. If you limit it, you’re eliminating some young people missing out on that experience.”
Ackerman’s report presents many facets and options related to the marketing and fan-friendliness of the women’s game, including uniform styles and colors. There’s plenty that can be done to enhance the sport in this regard, she opines.
(Marshall’s average home attendance in 2012-13 was 651. The Herd was among 205 of the 343 Division I programs to average fewer than 1,000 per game. Only 36 schools averaged more than 3,000 per home date.)
Daniel: “I think if you shrink the venues, it helps a whole lot. We did it at Central Arkansas (where Daniel coached four seasons before moving to Marshall, building a 20-win program from a 6-win start). We spent $25,000, $50,000 -- which I know is a lot of money and I know it’s a sensitive subject here because of the budget cuts and all that.
“But if you create an atmosphere, that’s how you turn it. In the women’s game, you shrink the venue to do that. At Central Arkansas, we flipped it in one year. Tarp it off (upper seating in the arena), use a curtain. Our goal there was to ‘Raise the curtain … raise the curtain.’ As an administration, I never wanted to raise the curtain. I don’t care if there were 15,000 in there, don’t raise the curtain. Pack the place. Let’s rock this place. I’d start there because individual schools can do that without it being under the NCAA or WBCA or whoever else is involved.”
The overall summation on the report – in fact, the basis for Ackerman’s work – is that the Division I women’s game has plateaued, if not regressed. The Herd coach was asked if the game has plateaued.
Daniel: “Somewhat, yes. I think it needs to make leaps. I’m not opposed … at Central Arkansas, our colors were purple and gray, and I contacted Nike about wearing lavender, doing something that stands out. That’s me, though. You’ve seen me walking the hallways in the stuff that I’m wearing. Anything to find our niche, I’m not afraid to try.
“That’s doesn’t mean we’ll get it right. But who’s to say we’re getting it right or wrong now? Val, she’s taken a sample of people … that’s good and bad. All samples are kind of weighed on how a person is doing that day. That’s what ‘evaluation’ is, how that person is evaluating whatever they’re evaluating today. I have a lot of respect for her, and for what she’s done, and I’m sure she’s gathered great information.
“Yeah, I’m not afraid to change things. Let’s lower the goals, let’s liven things up, let’s shrink the venue and now all of a sudden you’ve got an environment that kids want to be a part of and play in and families want to be a part of … and it’s entertaining.
“There are very few programs in the country making money. Right now, it’s just about everybody trying to lose the least. We’ve got to start entertaining a lot more, otherwise what’s the point?”