Keeping Score

Should Women Basketball Players Shoot On Lower Rims?

Geno Auriemma, coach of UConn and the U.S. women's national team, recommends lowering the baskets to increase the popularity of women's hoops. Why that likely won't happen.

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Jessica Hill / AP

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma speaks with Kelly Faris, left, as Brianna Banks listens during practice before the NCAA college basketball team's media day in Storrs, Conn., Oct. 16, 2012.

When University of Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma, a seven-time national champion with the Huskies who also led this year’s U.S. Olympic team to gold in London, talks about changing up the women’s game, you have to listen. His latest idea, however, seems quite radical: Auriemma thinks women’s basketball should lower the rims, to increase offensive output and generate more interest in the game. The Washington Post explains Auriemma’s reasoning:

“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,” U-Conn. Coach Geno Auriemma told the Hartford Courant.

“How do help improve that? Lower the rim [from 10 feet]. 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].”

The numbers tell the story in women’s college hoops where only 11 Division I teams shot 45 percent or better from the field during the 2011-12 season. (The Huskies were second at 47.7 percent behind undefeated Baylor at 48.8). In contrast, 109 men’s Division I teams eclipsed the mark (via ESPN).

“Let’s say the average men’s player is 6-5 and the average woman is 5-11,” Auriemma told the Courant. “Let’s lower the rim seven inches; let’s say 7.2 inches to honor Title IX [instituted in 1972]. If you lower it, the average fan likely wouldn’t even notice it.

“Now there would be fewer missed layups because the players are actually at the rim [when they shoot]. Shooting percentages go up. There would be more tip-ins.”

There are only so many Brittney Griners who can dunk and shoot 60.9 percent for the season. For the rest of women’s college players, that means relying on jump shots and layups to put points on the board.

Auriemma said he plans to propose the idea to the NCAA’s rules committee along with a suggestion to reduce the shot-clock from 30 to 24 seconds and institute an eight-second backcourt rule to help speed up play.

(MORE: U.S. Women Win Fifth Consecutive Olympic Gold. Will the WNBA Profit?)

Auriemma’s idea does make some intuitive sense. Softball fields, for example, are smaller than baseball fields. Women golfers tee off closer to the green than men do.  Basketballs for women’s players are already smaller than those for men, to account for physical differences. Why shouldn’t the height of the rims account for height differences too?

However, the proposal is fraught with practical problems. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky explains:

The execution seems impossible, because the change would have to come at every level, not just college. Kids grow up playing on fixed 10-foot rims in schools, parks, and playgrounds. Adjustable hoops are expensive. Very few municipalities have the money or the motivation to install separate girls’ courts with 9’5″ baskets.

The alternative to making changes from the ground up would be girls getting to college and overshooting rims suddenly shorter than what they’ve been playing on their whole lives. Which would mean more missed layups and less scoring, defeating the entire purpose of the rule change. And then, unless the WNBA adopts the new rules as well, it’d be another adjustment when they hit the pros. Auriemma’s proposal is coming from the right place, it’s just 100 years too late.

What does one of the best women’s basketball players of all-time think of Auriemma’s idea? “I think Geno is bored,” says Nancy Lieberman, a Hall of Famer who earned the nickname “Lady Magic” during her college playing days in the late-1970s, and recently served as coach for an NBA Developmental League team. “I don’t have a clue why he would say that.” To Lieberman, lowering the rims would stunt the evolution of the women’s game. “Why lower the rim when we’re getting to the rim,” says Lieberman. “The history of the game says we’ll get there early and often. I know of 13- and 14-year old kids who are learning how to dunk now. Don’t go backwards.”

(MORE: 2010 TIME Q&A With Geno Auriemma)