Streamers fell from the Bridgestone Arena rafters in Nashville Tuesday night, signaling the end of the NCAA women’s college basketball season. But frank discussions about the future of the game that took place earlier in the week during the Women’s Final Four Summit will continue to impact the game at all levels in the months ahead.
Three sessions – youth development, business of basketball and the state of the game – brought together stakeholders from the international, professional, collegiate, high school, youth and media ranks. (Watch video from the summit here).
Concerns with ratings and attendance, developmental opportunities for coaches and athletes and numerous other areas call for a shared vision, according to Anucha Browne, the NCAA vice president for women's basketball championships who spearheaded the event. Browne said similar gatherings on a yearly or quarterly basis will potentially occur within a smaller group.
“This was an opportunity to come together and really talk about those issues,” Browne said, noting the amount of passion in the room for women’s basketball. “I will do whatever I can, and I know that the panelists and everyone out there (will too) because we’re talking about a lot of the same things.”
Monday’s occasion built on momentum generated at the Women's Basketball White Paper Summit held in September 2013 at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis and added to the discussion of issues identified in its namesake June 2013 white paper written by then-NCAA consultant Val Ackerman. The current Big East Conference commissioner helped lead discussions at both summits and said the Women’s Final Four event was an important next step since the game’s backers had time to reflect on the work of the last year.
“Certainly to have the WNBA and USA Basketball and ESPN and players and student-athletes past and present in the room at the same time is a unique opportunity,” said Ackerman, a past president of the WNBA and USA Basketball. “We’re not seeing that in men’s basketball or other women’s sports but we’re doing it in women’s basketball, so that’s a real positive in terms of dialogue. I think now we’ve got to continue to move toward some concrete tactics and solutions.”
Attendees were polled on whether regional round games should be played on campus sites, if only the best teams should be showcased on television to grow the brand, what the main marketing goal should be and their thoughts on the biggest obstacle to youth development.
An earlier session focused on the business of game. Topics ranged from identifying the marketable asset in women’s basketball to the value of a ticket and a fan. The discussion was led by a group of Division I conference and athletics administrators and WNBA leaders.
Indiana Fever president and general manager Kelly Krauskopf, who said she sold the first ticket sponsorship and sales program while working at Texas A&M, said the WNBA is invested because growth starts at the foundation.
“I think it takes everybody that’s committed to the game to come together and share experiences, talk about what we can do to help each other as well as learn from each other,” she said. “It’s important to really push women’s basketball beyond a niche sport.”
With USA Basketball taking the lead with a youth development model already underway, support from all levels is critical. During the youth development model, USA Basketball women's national team director Carol Callan noted that making the youth basketball space more inclusive is the first step towards greater coach and athlete development.
Sports participation rates among females and other youth sports demographics were among topics discussed by the youth development panel. Following a polling session of summit attendees, breakout meetings were held with the results reported back to the audience.
“The information we received was pretty much what he’s been hearing all along,” Callan, said of Jay Demings, USA Basketball youth division director. “You can’t have everybody do their own thing…why not unify?”
Danielle Donehew, American Athletic Conference associate commissioner for women's basketball called the event a great step of many to come.
“As we all know, it feeds the pipeline of our entire great game,” she said.