Collegiate womens basketball is at a crossroads.
Overall attendance is stagnant, if not in decline. The NCAA tournaments attendance is shrinking. Scoring and shooting percentages are at an all-time low. There are no fewer than 10 governing bodies that attempt to regulate some aspect of the sport.
These were some of the conclusions from an NCAA-commissioned, six-month study undertaken by Val Ackerman, the founding president of the WNBA and past president of USA Basketball. Her findings, along with recommendations for how to grow and improve the game, were presented in a 52-page white paper delivered on June 15 to Mark Lewis, the NCAA executive vice president of championships and alliances, and Anucha Browne, the NCAA vice president of womens basketball championships.
There was another notable conclusion from Ackermans work: there is a tremendous appetite for change.
And that thought was echoed locally.
Whats happening, its really a welcome thing, said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie. I dont want it to stall in any way.
The NCAA began to act on the Ackerman report this week. The NCAA Division I Womens Basketball Committee announced it will immediately allow regional host institutions to play on their home courts, which was among the suggestions contained in the report.
The committee also said it will establish a womens basketball stakeholders summit, at the 2014 Womens Final Four. Other changes that could begin with the 2015 season would also be considered, according to the NCAA committee, including:
• shifting of weekend playing dates for the Womens Final Four from Sunday-Tuesday to Friday-Sunday.
• possible first- and second-round byes for as many as the top-32 seeds, so that lower-seeded teams play each other in earlier rounds.
• combining the Womens Final Four with the Division II and Division III Womens Basketball Championships in Indianapolis in the Summer Olympics year of 2016.
The ACC has worked closely with Ackerman throughout her information gathering process, as she spent two days at the leagues annual spring meetings at Amelia Island, Fla. Ackerman met with coaches and administrators, collecting input that went into influencing her paper.
After those meetings, the ACC formed a strategic womens basketball planning group, and that committee convened in Greensboro, to review the white paper, according to UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell.
The group came up with three main priorities: improve the NCAA tournament, evaluate the rules and officiating of the rules, and focus on skill and coaching development.
Hatchell sees an easy solution to several of the issues.
Its really simple. Enforce the rules, clean up the game, keep it from being so physical, she said. Then the skill level is better, the coaching is better, scores are higher, TV coverage is better, the ratings are higher, attendance is better. Its a domino effect. It all starts with the game not being as physical and it being more of an offensive game.
McCallie was hesitant to use the phrase clean up the game, saying that fans dont want to see the whistle blow constantly. One of her favorite proposals to improve play is the implementation of a 24-second shot clock, already in place in the WNBA.
McCallie is most concerned with seeing quick action even if its not action she would prefer.
Im okay with somebody making a decision and Im not for it, she said. In other words, I dont think this should be a big democracy. Basically, some people that have done the research and some others, a small group of people, need to forward this.
Weve just got to simply try. This is a time to be all-in, and to trust the leadership and the research that has been done.
Final Four sites are set for the next three years Nashville (2014), Tampa (2015) and Indianapolis (2016) but, after that, the event could go in a different direction. It could attempt to find a permanent host, like the College World Series has in Omaha, Neb., or it could try to package itself with the mens Final Four, creating a super showcase of college basketball.
The possible changes to the game are numerous and extend beyond the seasons final event.
Thats a big picture idea, and the white paper has several more specific thoughts, too (for example: improve the quality and knowledge of TV announcers). Whats most important to those involved though, is that the paper translates into tangible action. And the sooner, the better.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley