Finding consistent offense was problematic for Florida last season, but Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has an answer for UF and the rest of women’s basketball: lower the rims.
Averaging 67.5 points per game, the Gators ranked 75th nationally in scoring. They were 101st in shooting percentage, making just 40.3 percent of their shots from the floor.
The averages were significantly lower than Florida’s men’s team, which scored 75.9 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting.
Citing women’s college basketball’s increasing struggle to attract an audience, Auriemma brainstormed a way to make the sport more enjoyable.
His big idea for driving up attendance is to increase scoring by lowering the rims and instituting new timing rules.
“What makes fans not want to watch women’s basketball is that some of the players can’t shoot, and they miss layups, and that forces the game to slow down,” Auriemma told the Hartford Courant on Oct. 22. “Let’s say the average men’s player is 6-foot-5, and the average woman is 5-foot-11. Let’s lower the rim seven inches; let’s say 7.2 inches to honor Title IX [established in 1972].”
Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, Auriemma is one of the sport’s transcendent leaders. He has won seven national championships and made 13 trips to the Final Four since becoming the coach of UConn in 1985.
Despite Auriemma’s success in the sport, some Gators players were against his idea for wholesale changes to the game.
“[Lowering the rim] is just kind of degrading toward the women who play basketball to think that we have to change something like that for our game to be more exciting,” redshirt freshman Carlie Needles said. “Geno is different. He can say things like that because he is one of the best. Maybe he does have a good reason why; I personally don’t agree with it. I don’t know who else would.”
Coach Amanda Butler was careful to stay neutral when discussing the subject.
She served on the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Board of Directors, where Auriemma formerly was president.
“He wants what’s best for the game and what’s going to continue to grow the game,” she said. “Certainly not every idea is a good idea, but you sometimes don’t find out until you do something that’s a little bit different.”Butler said the game would benefit from more uniformity in the rules.
High school, college and professional basketball each play with a different set of rules. Her belief is a foundation should be set for the current game before changes are considered.
“Lowering the rims, I’m not sure about that,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that we could look at, but I don’t think that’s probably No. 1 on my list of changes I would like to see.”
Auriemma disagrees. His idea is not simply a whim, either. He plans to continue to push for lower rims and other subtle rule changes after the season.
“This spring, I plan on proposing [to the rules committee] that the NCAA allow programs to keep their teams together in order to play scrimmages against an opponent, with the lower basket, with a 24-second shot clock and an eight-second backcourt rule,” he said.
The goal would be to “see what happens.”
Changes to the rules are not imminent. However, there is precedent for this type of shift.
For decades, women have used a smaller basketball than men. Auriemma likened that to women’s volleyball, which uses lower nets than men and softball, which uses a smaller field than baseball.
Each manipulation allows women to compete at a more comparable level to men.
Needles said the evolution of the female athlete will take care of that; no changes necessary.
“We have bigger players, better players, players who can do things that players years ago couldn’t do,” she said. “It’s going to get better and better as the years go on.
“I think that’s crazy he would even think about doing something like that. Especially him. He’s all about the women’s game, and he’s been around the best players.”
Villanova coach Harry Perretta told The New York Times that Auriemma’s idea was intriguing and a positive sign that people have started looking for ways to improve the women’s game.
Perretta said he would need to study the change more closely before reaching a firm conclusion.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I understand the rationale — men are closer to the rim when they’re laying it up, and it would make our field-goal percentages go up. I do agree with that to some extent.”
Despite Auriemma’s reasoning, Perretta has lingering concerns about the effect a lower rim would have on outside shooters — players like redshirt junior Lily Svete.
Svete’s biggest asset on the court is her outside shooting. She attempted 60 three-point shots in less than nine minutes per game last season.
Like Needles, she was opposed to the rule changes, saying she has worked her entire career to master her shot and has no interest in altering it or the game as a whole.
“I like the game how it is,” she said. “I feel like nothing should change.”