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Summit gathering provides step to the future of women’s basketball

By Greg Johnson

Participants in the Women’s Basketball White Paper Summit in Indianapolis agreed that the Women’s Final Four should be moved to a weekend later than it is currently held and that the top-16 seeds should host first- and second-round games for future Division I Women’s Basketball Championships.

The summit, which took place at the NCAA National Office on Monday, brought together conference representatives, campus athletics administrators, women’s basketball head coaches, an on-court official, television executives and other stakeholders of the game

The gathering of those 35 individuals was intended to allow for frank and candid discussions about the future of women’s basketball.

Among other recommendations the group supported through a consensus vote:

  • A concept for having two super regionals feeding into the Women’s Final Four, instead of the current four-site regional format;

  • Support for those super regionals to be hosted on a semi-permanent basis in the same city, which would allow a community a chance to market the event on more than a one-time basis;

  • A hosting format where the super regionals and Women’s Final Four would be hosted in the same locations in multiple years on a rotating basis;

  • A Friday-Sunday format for the Women’s Final Four;

  • Conducting championships for all three divisions on the same weekend for the 2016 Women’s Final Four, which will be held in Indianapolis.    

Since the discussions were made in an ad-hoc group, all recommendations made out of the summit can only move forward through the NCAA governance structure.  

"There was a tremendous amount of energy in the room,” said NCAA Vice President of Women’s Basketball Anucha Browne. “We got after some of the sensitive and critical issues facing our game. There was a strong consensus that we can’t continue to do what we’re doing.”

The goal of the group was to move forward with ideas that came out of the white paper written by Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman, who was hired as a consultant -- before her current appointment -- by the NCAA championships and alliances staff to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the sport.

“This was a good start on what’s next,” Ackerman said. “There are clearly a lot of issues and areas that we are trying tackle. Part of the process will be what pace will the change be, and how much can be done in the short term and long term. This easily could have spilled over to a second and third day.”

One of the topics that drew a lot of conversation was the state of the game on the court. Many around the room addressed what they believed to be the most important aspects of the game that needed to be enhanced.

The flow of the game and freedom of movement were the most common answers. Protecting the shooters and dribblers were also brought into the discussion.

Other on-court items that were discussed were breaking the game up from two-halves into four quarters, using a 24-second shot clock and widening the lane.

Another topic that drew a lot of discussion centered on the need for skill development of youth basketball and coaches at that level.

Summit members believe communication with USA Basketball needs to be developed, and the possibility of creating a certification process for coaches should be explored.

This has been talked about among Women’s Basketball Coaches Association members. They would like to see some professional development initiatives to ensure that the game is being taught properly.

“Coaches have to be better,” said Geno Auriemma, who is the head coach at Connecticut and U.S. Olympic Team. “We have to teach the game better. We have a lot of coaches in this country, but we don’t have a lot of teachers. The players we’re getting need a lot of teaching. We have to work hard to make sure we can do that.” 

One of the critiques of the current format in summer basketball is that too much attention is being paid to game competition and not enough on skill development.

Some of the coaches in the room suggested that the NCAA should certify skill-development events to help send a message that it is important to the evaluation process for college coaches.

The participants in the meeting also discussed the possibility of reducing scholarships from 15 to 13, but after a prolonged debate it was decided that the limit should remain where it is. This was mainly due to the injury factor in women’s basketball.

Overall, most left the meeting believing this was a good step for future discussions of the game’s direction.

“I’ve been involved in the sport for 40-plus years, and this to me is one of the highlights in terms of bring together the stakeholders in the sport,” said legendary former Texas coach Jody Conradt. “This was an environment where we can talk openly about the state of the game.”