At the White Papers Summit in Indianapolis, a panel of 35 women's basketball representatives voted on various issues to help improve the women's NCAA game. (File photo by Kelly Kline)
At the White Papers Summit in Indianapolis, a panel of 35 women's basketball representatives voted on various issues to help improve the women's NCAA game. (File photo by Kelly Kline)

White Paper Summit: Women's basketball heavyweights look to the future

Editor
October 10, 2013 - 11:55am

Monday’s Women’s Basketball White Paper Summit didn’t draw a lot of attention, but the 35-person group’s input to the NCAA will be taken very seriously – which means we should be paying attention too.

Here are the recommendations the summit endorsed by majority vote:

  1. Move the Final Four to the weekend after the men’s Final Four;
  2. The top 16 seeds would host the first two rounds of the tournament (meaning that the first through fourth seeds in each bracket would host);
  3. Eliminate two of the Regional sites, and have eight teams at each of two “Super Regional” locations that would play down to the Final Four;
  4. Have a limited number of sites that would host the Final Four and Super Regionals;
  5. Play the Division I, II and III championships in the same location starting in 2016.

There was also discussion of many other issues brought up in Val Ackerman’s report on the state of the game (which Full Court is in the process of looking at in more depth), but the group, for example, decided not to endorse the idea of cutting scholarships from 15 to 13, and only approved the five changes mentioned above. So, looking at each one in turn:

Move the Final Four to the weekend after the men’s Final Four: This is an unsurprising vote from a group of people who attend the Final Four every year – it is basically a convention for women’s college basketball stakeholders and job seekers, so naturally these 35 people are focused on what the experience is like at the event.

What they’re missing, however, is that the greatest impact of the Final Four comes through exposure on ESPN and that whether or not it’s more convenient for women’s basketball professionals and fans to go to a Friday-Sunday event than a Sunday-Tuesday one is much less important than how many people watch on TV. And a Tuesday night championship game is going to get a lot more media attention and TV viewers than a Sunday game that’s competing with the start of baseball and the final round of the Master’s.

The top 16 seeds would host the first two rounds of the tournament: When the NCAA first decided that the richest schools could host (as the highest bid won the event) the first two rounds, it was roundly criticized as an awful decision that a) would result in higher seeds having to play lower seeds in a hostile environment; and b) would result in no increase in attendance.

Both criticisms were correct, and the only surprise here is that it’s taken so long for people to acknowledge this mistake. The NCAA, of course, is known for its sclerotic pace of change, but the plan would be to return to rewarding good teams rather than big bank accounts in 2014.

Eliminate two of the Regional sites, and have eight teams at each of two “Super Regional” locations: Regional attendance has always been disastrous unless a local team is playing, and even then decisions to play in large arenas have never worked out – so cutting down to two sites makes sense as long as the temptation to play in a 15,000-seat venue is avoided. Find a nice 10,000-seat arena and a crowd of 4,000 looks fine, but that same 4,000 people in a much bigger hall is bad for the sport.

Have a limited number of sites that would host the Final Four and Super Regionals: This is really irrelevant, as the switch to bidding for first- and second-round sites proved. The idea is that advance marketing will sell more tickets than local teams, but it’s simply not true, as more than a decade of evidence shows.

There will be marginal advantages in how efficient site management is, as experience always helps, but to expect marketing to suddenly sell a bunch of tickets, rather than having a local team doing well, is simply unrealistic.

Play the Division I, II and III championships in the same location starting in 2016: Great idea. It doesn’t cost anything – and in fact saves money administratively – and it makes the Final Four even more of a women’s basketball convention and will boost the Division II and III title games.

It’s also worth discussing the vote that supported the present scholarship limit of 15, which is a huge positive for the big schools. Eighteen of the 35 voters came from those conferences that benefit the most from hoarding available talent and preventing it from trickling down to mid-major competitors, and only nine were from smaller conferences that would get a tremendous boost from enhanced access to the players now at the end of the bench of the top schools. So it’s hardly a surprise that this particular group voted to allow the big schools to keep more talent, but perhaps the NCAA as a whole will recognize the clear self-interest that drove this decision and cut scholarships back to 13, as Ackerman recommended.

There were also discussions about officiating, the pace of play and other issues, all of which were prompted by the overall realization articulated by NCAA Vice President of Women’s Basketball Anucha Browne: “There was a strong consensus that we can’t continue to do what we’re doing.”

Whether these small steps will make a major difference is hard to say – especially if the Final Four is moved back a week and loses media attention and viewership – but as the saying goes, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists.

 

SUMMIT ATTENDEES
Invitees to the NCAA Women’s Basketball White Paper Summit:
Val Ackerman, Big East Conference commissioner   Bernadette McGlade, Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner
Geno Auriemma, Connecticut head coach   Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame head coach
Doug Bruno, DePaul head coach   Marilyn McNeil, Monmouth athletics director
Barbara Burke, Eastern Illinois athletics director (chair, Women’s Basketball Rules Committee)   Kelly Mehrtens, Maryland deputy athletics director
Carolyn Campbell-McGovern, Ivy League deputy executive director (chair, Division I Women’s Basketball Issues Committee)   Jane Miller, Virginia senior associate athletics director (chair Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet)
Leslie Claybrook, Southeastern Conference assistant commissioner   M. Dianne Murphy, Columbia athletics director
Sherri Coale, Oklahoma head coach   Patti Phillips, NACWAA chief executive officer
Jody Conradt, Texas (retired) head coach   Shannon Reynolds, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association chief operating officer
Tiffany Daniels, Southeastern Conference associate commissioner   Jennifer Rizzotti, Hartford head coach
Chris Dawson, Pac-12 Conference associate commissioner   Carolyn Schlie-Femovich, Patriot League executive director
Danielle Donehew, American Athletic Conference associate commissioner   Sue Semrau, Florida State head coach
Rosalyn Durant, ESPN vice president of college sports   Carol Stiff, ESPN vice president content program and integration
Nora Lynn Finch, Atlantic Coast Conference senior associate commissioner   C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers head coach
Carolayne Henry, Mountain West Conference senior associate commissioner (chair, Division I Women’s Basketball Committee)   Tara VanDerveer, Stanford head coach
Connie Hurlbut, Western Athletic Conference senior associate commissioner   Holly Warlick, Tennessee head coach
Dee Kantner, game official (NCAA, WNBA)   Coquese Washington, Penn State head coach
Donna Lopiano, Sports Management Resources president   Jeff Walz, Louisville head coach

 


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