Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Should basketball follow volleyball’s lead?

New York Times Op-Ed suggests different hoop heights for men and women, something volleyball figured out long ago

For years, we at Volleyblog Seattle have argued that one of volleyball’s greatest strengths is its ability to showcase men and women equally. The men’s net is raised 7-1/2 inches higher than the women’s net (7 ft, 11-5/8 in vs. 7 ft, 4-1/8 in), which means both genders attack and block roughly the same distance above the net, adjusted for their relative average height and jumping prowess.

Tomi Um, New York Times
In other words, plenty of big kills and stuff blocks no matter which sex is on the court.

Basketball, however, suffers from its unwillingness to offer different hoop heights for men and women. Though it does offer slightly smaller-circumference basketballs, few women can dunk on a traditional 10 foot rim, and men’s games often offer more dynamic action around the hoop.

Now comes an opinion piece in today’s New York Times, “The WNBA Should Bring the Basket Down, and Fandom Up.” Asher Price, a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and author of “Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity,” cites volleyball’s dual net height in support of his argument that women’s hoops should be lowered at least six inches. An excerpt:
Currently, the women’s game relies on jump shots, which translate to lower shooting percentages and a more workaday style. In a sense, women are deprived of the opportunity to fully express their raw athleticism.
Val Ackerman, a former president of USA Basketball, the sport’s governing body, and the W.N.B.A. — and a three-time captain of her college squad before playing pro ball in Europe — is among those who have made the case for a lower rim.
She told me recently that bringing the hoop down from 10 feet, by at least half a foot, would mean fewer missed layups and a more fluid game.
She said her one regret as W.N.B.A. president was never experimenting with a lower rim.

Ironically, the men’s game has frequently experimented with raising the men’s hoop, with many of the most significant trials taking place right here in Seattle. As we reported in 2013:
A small group of vocal basketball crusaders have been arguing since the 1940s that the men’s basketball hoop should be raised. Cal basketball legend Pete Newell pushed for it in the 1960s; his son, Tom Newell, staged a higher-hoop exhibition at the University of Washington in 2007.

Two years ago this month, the New York Times reported that the popularity of women’s basketball was falling, as detailed in an NCAA white paper authored by former WNBA Commissioner Val Ackerman. Two of the many reasons cited were the rim height disparity and the comparable rise of volleyball as the preeminent women’s team sport in the US. As Ackerman wrote, “volleyball (is) seen as a ‘growing threat’ for young players and athletic department dollars; (volleyball) may be prospering ‘because (it is) not laboring under comparisons with men.’”

We wrote extensively about volleyball overtaking basketball right after the Ackerman white paper was published (please see Volleyball rising, basketball “stagnant,” June 21, 2013). If anything, the numbers cited in our report are even more skewed toward volleyball: In 36 states, more high school girls play volleyball than basketball. In the past two years, Alaska, Utah, Tennessee, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Missouri have all joined the switch to the volleyball category. In Washington State, volleyball prevails over basketball by an ever-widening margin, currently 10,924 to 8,704. (see: National Federation of State High School Associations 2013-14 High School Athletics Participation Survey.)

In 36 states, more high school girls participate in high school volleyball than in basketball
[graphic by Volleyblog Seattle]
-Source: 2013-14 Participation Report, National Federation of State High School Associations 

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