Thursday, November 01, 2012

Should we Change the Game?

This is an opinion-based blog with no concrete opinion...more of a musing really. The topic in question is if the parameters of basketball should be changed further to accommodate the smaller size and physical limitations of women? Women and men are simply not the same. This is not a sexist or misogynistic claim, but most women are simply not as big or as strong as most men. In many sports the implements and/or playing area is already modified for women. This is true in basketball (the size and weight of the ball), volleyball (the height of the net), baseball (size of ball and type of pitching), and there are adaptations in gymnastics, track, and other sports.

I will be honest. My first impression when I heard of the latest discussion regarding lowering the rims in basketball was strong and immediate. I was totally against it. I then opened my mind up a bit and started pondering my rationale for being against it. For one, I am not in favor, as a rule, of making sports into “girls” sports. I  think that women are usually capable of using the same implements as men and playing the same game. When I think about this more, however, I come to the realization that women are really not playing the same game because of their physical stature.  Women’s basketball is played differently than the men’s game. Whether or not the actual game itself is better or worse is another discussion, but the simple fact is that the games are different.

The main discussion here is whether or not we are trying to make women’s sports more like men’s sports in the way they are played or if we are modifying the parameters to increase the spectators' enjoyment of the game or if it's a bit of both. One of the discussions on ESPN stated that changing the rim height would increase viewer base and add excitement to the game. While this may be somewhat true, it is only affecting the sport where viewers are a factor. This means we are talking about 2% of the women's basketball games played (and even that is an optimistic number).

Another part of this discussion is that, when females are young (children), they are often not strong enough to shoot properly on a 10-foot hoop, therefore, lowering the rim would take away some of the intimidation of trying and potentially increase the number of girls playing the sport, which is always a good thing. In elementary school, this is already done, for boys and girls, but then it is raised back to 10 feet for both in middle school.

There are many who believe that it would cheapen the sport and that it is demeaning to women to make the rules of the game “easier” to accommodate them. This was honestly my first opinion since my involvement with women's basketball has proven to me that women don't need "help" or "easier" and I know firsthand how athletic, strong, and skilled women can be.  The fact remains, however, that women are usually physically smaller. That's not up for debate since most women simply are. Therefore, lowering the rims would not make it "easier" but instead perhaps make it a more even playing field. At the highest levels in the men’s game, a lot of it is played above the rim; therefore, the women’s game is very different in terms of game play. Making the rim lower would change the game so that it is played in a more similar way. This change would make it more equal rather than different.

I think it is fair to say that lowering the rims would not make more people (men!) watch. The people who watch women’s basketball would be the same people who watch it now, save for a few people interested in seeing the change. This could be argued, of course, but realistically people watch men’s sports because they are faster and the athletes are bigger and stronger. It is “easier” to enjoy a men’s game because the excitement is more overt. Anyone can watch an NBA game and see how fast and strong the players are. The finer points of the game are lost on most spectators and changing the women’s game to be more like the men’s game in terms of dunks and shot blocking would still not change the lack of speed and power when compared to the men’s game.

This post by no means pretends to make conclusions about whether it should happen or not. It is just an interesting topic that raises a lot of questions. Obviously changing the rim height is a logistical problem that would take a long time to implement due to the many schools that have main hoops that don’t lower. Also pertainent to the debate is what “lower” actually means in terms of how much lower the rim would be.

The differences between men and women are obvious and not up for debate in terms of their size and strength. If and then how we adapt or change things to accommodate these differences is a hotly debated topic. There are many people who are offended by the very idea of it. Of course, since there is no discussion about increasing the ball size in girls' sports, raising the net in volleyball, or asking women to perform on the rings in the Olympics, perhaps we are not as offended as we let on.

Now I love women’s basketball.  I have worked in the sport for 10 years. There is no one I would rather watch play than the UFV women’s basketball team. There are no teams I would rather coach than the Junior Cascades girls club team. All of that being said, however, I admit I still enjoy watching men’s college ball and the NBA because of its speed and power. That is not to say I don’t respect what the female ballplayers of this world bring to the table. They are amazing athletes and can do things I could never hope to do and their game, when played well, is great - people who don't appreciate it miss out on excellence in teamwork, play execution, athleticism, and flow; unfortunately, it just does not seem to be as entertaining to the masses as the men’s game. We seem to like massive size, power, and combat.  We either like it or hate it. Will altering the rim height change that? Likely not. Will it make the game more similar in terms of how it is played? Likely. Does it make it better? That is up for debate.

~ Yoshia

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