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The Ackerman White Paper, Part II: Changing the game

The most controversial part of Val Ackerman's NCAA white paper are the changes she believes are needed in women's college basketball, both on the court and off.


The NCAA White Paper authored by former WNBA president Val Ackerman is causing a lot of conversation in the ranks of women's college basketball. Yesterday, I read the first part of the paper and highlighted the parts that popped out as being of interest to followers of the game. Today, I'd like to get into Part II, which is the plan of action that Ackerman proposes to the NCAA to strengthen the game.

In general, Ackerman's first direction is to emphasize what's good about the sport already - its emphasis on fundamentals and fan friendliness. The second - and probably, the most controversial - is to find some way to differentiate the game further from the men's version.

Ackerman also calls from some of the various committees in the NCAA to be consolidated. There would be a separate advisory panel to provide ideas for growth and a services unit would be created to collect data for best practices.

In addition, Ackerman also proposes modifications to the women's basketball game. Some of these are to bring the game more in line with the WNBA/FIBA model. This involves among other things the use of a 24-second clock and a division of the game into ten-minute quarters rather than halves.

Most controversial would be the use of a rules laboratory. This would permit testing of alternative rules -- for example a lower rim height, different scoring, or new defensive guidelines. These new rules could be play-tested during summer play or taken up by conferences on an ad hoc basis.

Other measures suggested:

1. Reducing the number of scholarships from 15 to 13.
2. Resizing the uniforms/designing more flashy uniforms.
3. A "no tattoos"/"no visible tattoos" policy.
4. A shortening of the women's basketball season by at least two games.
5. Either an elimination of conference tournaments (which generally run small crowds) or - if the conferences insist on maintaining them - a reduction of the number of tournament spots available to the top four or eight finishers.
6. Shift the bulk of the season to some other months - either mostly in the Spring, or to October through February.

The report suggests possible changes to the NCAA Tournament:

1. Switching the days that Final Four games take place - starting on Friday, rather than Sunday.
2. Get rid of the "pod" system and give the top 16 seeds the right to play at home in the early rounds. Better the unfairness of lower seeds having to play at the big (and well-attended) program home courts than for teams playing at neutral sites that are virtually empty.
3. Allow the bottom 32 teams to play only against each other in the first round. Then, reseed the tournament and play against the top 16 seeds. This would allow the earlier games to be more competitive, as the schools would be better matched.
4. Establish a multi-year site for the Final Four.
5. Possibly allow a women's Final Four to take place in an overseas market like China or Qatar to promote the game.

We next look at the business side of the ledger. Among the changes suggested:

1. More sharing of data between Division I schools, particularly annual revenues and expenses.
2. Bring more sports management students into women's basketball as marketing and sales staff.
3. Sell tickets at full market value.
4. Share season ticket lists with WNBA teams as well as share strategies.
5. Make part of coaching compensation contingent on attendance.
6. Make the NCAA website more user-friendly.
7. Assist high-profile coaches and players with media strategies - the top ten players would be identified by the NCAA each year and given comprehensive media training.
8. Stage at least 3-5 games every year in unusual or iconic locations.
9. Create a "sorority" - a member association of ex-Division I women's basketball players to form a base of support.

The report concludes with a list of base metrics - these are goals in attendance, sponsorship, television ratings and revenues that each school will be challenged to meet.

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The good thing about this report is that people are talking about the recommendations, either actively agreeing or disagreeing with many of them. In Part III, I'll give my thoughts about the report and provide what I hope is an interesting thought exercise.