Top college coach has a radical idea to improve sport.
Hopkins girls' basketball star Nia Coffey can dunk a tennis ball on a regulation 10-foot hoop. Maybe even a volleyball, her coach said.
The 6-1 guard can't quite dunk a basketball, though. But what if the rim were lowered seven inches, as proposed by UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma?
"I think I could [dunk]," she said.
While Coffey said she finds the idea of lowering the rim "really bizarre," it piqued her curiosity.
"I would be willing to try it. It's really intriguing," said Coffey, the daughter of former Gophers basketball player Richard Coffey. "I feel like so many girls are close to dunking and maybe that would make it more exciting."
Presumably, that is partly what Auriemma had in mind when he recently floated his radical idea to improve the product and attendance in women's basketball. Auriemma wants to lower rims because he believes that would result in fewer missed layups, more scoring, more plays above the rim, better shooting and generally a more palatable game for fans to watch.
"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. "Do you think the average fan knows that the net is lower in women's volleyball than men's volleyball? It's about seven inches shorter so the women have the chance for the same kind of success at the net [as the men]."
Auriemma plans to propose his idea -- along with a few others -- to the NCAA rules committee next spring. He probably won't find much support based on reactions nationwide and locally.
"I was completely caught off guard," Gophers women's coach Pam Borton said. "I was just like, 'Wow, this is really out of the box.' "
Auriemma is a powerful figure in the sport and his words carry significant weight. He has won seven national championships at UConn and led the U.S. Olympic women's team to the gold medal in London. His résumé gives him a large platform to sway opinions and effect change.
He certainly deserves credit for trying to elevate the women's game and address attendance concerns, but his proposal is neither practical nor a realistic means to grow the sport's mass appeal.
Lowering the rims likely would accomplish his intended desire of improving offensive production, but it won't make women's basketball any more popular, at least not in a meaningful way. That's not a knock on women's basketball, just reality.
Plus, not every gym in America is configured with baskets that can be raised and lowered. That logistical hurdle would make it cost- prohibitive if discussion gained any traction among NCAA leaders.
"If it is [considered]," Borton said, "it is way, way, way down the road."
Borton's primary objection with the idea is that it seeks to make women's basketball something it's not.
"I really don't think we have to be the men's game," she said.
Borton noted that women's basketball is decades behind the men's game in its history. The women's game still is developing in terms of participation, athleticism, skill level and year-round commitment at youth levels. There are more good-to-elite players now than even five, 10 years ago and that trend should continue to climb as AAU and traveling basketball create opportunities for intensive training.
"In my 14 years [as Hopkins girls coach], it's gotten dramatically better, and I have some girls now who are playing at rim level," Brian Cosgriff said. "I think the training methods now in terms of strength and conditioning are better. I just think in a few years we'll have more people playing above the rim."
Borton doesn't discount Auriemma's points about growing fan attendance. She shares those concerns. A struggling economy and high-definition television have affected all sports at the ticket gate. It's just easier, cheaper and more relaxing to stay home and watch a game on our big screen these days.
Rather than introduce radical rules changes, Borton said, women's basketball needs to find new, creative ways to market itself to attract fans.
"I think as marketing departments and marketing your school, we have to really change [ways] of thinking to get people to have a great experience at your games," she said. "Marketing is different than what it was five years ago. We have to be ahead of the times and we have to be thinking like that and not archaic. We have to change."
Change is good, but within reason. Lowering rims is not the answer.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org
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