BROOKLYN, NY - It started while covering the New York Liberty during the WNBA season this summer.
Taking a close look at how the game was officiated it was obvious the contests were increasingly physical. The post defenders were displacing the offense significantly and no call was made unless the offense dropped the ball. Off the ball guard play was also rough. Negotiating screens was an adventure for both offense (setting or coming off them) and defense (getting through them).
Following a late season game at the Prudential Center, Phoenix Mercury rookie Britney Griner was asked about the physicality inside. Griner stoically answered, "it is physical but I have to adjust and play through it."
Teammate Diana Taurasi, one to run baseline and get free with a screen was more emphatic. Taurasi agreed the post play was exceedingly rough but also getting open as a perimeter shooter was difficult.
"You come off a screen you are getting held and bumped," Taurasi said. "I don't think people are paying to see that type of game."
Those statements were in mind as several Northeast Conference coaches were asked whether they felt the women's game was following the lead of the WNBA and getting too physical. Sacrificing the finesse for physicality.
Peter Cinella, Farleigh Dickinson University - "The game has become increasingly physical the past few years. The defending of the off the ball cutters is something that needs to be cleaned up immediately."
Bryan Whitten, Mount St. Mary's - "There is an emphasis to lighten up physically and free up the ball handler which is good. I feel officials have to set the tone regarding what is to be called. I agree with a lot of the suggestions to clean things up. I do not want two hands on a ball handler, that should be called right away. The whole idea regarding the changes should be to give the ball handler a chance to free up."
Gail Striegler, Long Island University - "Making these changes (to a less physical game) you have a fine line. There should be more freedom of movement allowed, especially as players cut or penetrate to the basket. The changes should not be such that they slow the game down too much. Always change with the good of the game in mind."
Joe Haigh, St. Francis (PA) - "Yes the game is too physical. I am 100% behind the movement to clean it up. It is tough when you play a BCS opponent and you get beat up in the paint and held on drives. All that physical play contributes to more missed shots and a slower game. If you do not protect the shooter you will have a lot more missed shots."
Jessica Mannetti, Sacred Heart - "It depends. There is going to be physical play in any contact sport. There is a new movement to protect the ball handler which is good. Still, in basketball there is always going to be some physical play."
Lisa Cermignano, Wagner - "No. I was a physical player and enjoyed that part of the game. The one thing is you do not want the game too physical. (Cleaning up) post play is important and with our team that is an issue."
John Thurston, St. Francis (NY) - "Absolutely. The women's game today was like the men's about 40 years ago, with the passing and finesse, but now the women are playing more like the men. The game has gotten so much more physical. Are you familiar with Val Ackerman's 'White Paper'? I think there are a lot of good recommendations there. I think the officials have to call by the rules not by the physical teams on the floor. I really feel the Baylor-Louisville game in the NCAAs opened a lot of eyes on the physical issue. (Louisville coach) Jeff (Walz) is a friend and I think he played it right, push and bump (Britney) Griner. That was the way Louisville would win, triple team her and get physical. The officials allowed it, Louisville won but I think many look at that game as a sign we need to clean some of the physical play up."
All the coaches agree, there is some cleaning up to do. Opinions differ regarding how much and what emphasis, post or guard play, should get priority. But the consensus is the game will lose its appeal if physicality totally suppresses finesse.