09/04/2007: How to “fix” the WNBA – a modest proposal

(This isn’t the first time that I’ve made the case that the WBNA will ultimately fail unless they make some fundimental changes. However, this is my first “public” attempt at making my case outside of letters to the WNBA and ESPN. I originally wrote this in 2007 and am finally now posting this as a Blog entry now that I have a blog. Since then events have overtaken my opinion with Candace Parker twice dunking in games. Fans have been predictably enthusiastic…)

This year (Fall, 2007), the WNBA finals was marred by the embarassing fact that the championship series was played in front of small crowds. Overall growth in attendance (and therefore interest) in the women’s league has stalled. This puts the league itself in danger of disappearing. The reason is simple and the reason is crass: there are no dunks in the WNBA.

I assure that I’m a big fan of the sport: I held Kings tickets for ten years and now, thanks to satellite TV, purchase an NBA league pass each season. Yet, it’s my opinion that the WNBA will never grow beyond the current base of fans because basketball, both college and pro, has been relentlessly marketed for years in a way that emphases the dunk. People just expect to see it and for good reason: it’s an exciting play. And though the WBNA is a fundamentally sound version of the game – in fact, more sound than the men’s game in a number of ways – the potential for that devastating power-jam just isn’t there so there’s little anticipation brought to the game. Frankly, for the common, casual fan, the WNBA is boring.

So how can we fix it? The answer is easy, really. Just lower the rims. Wait, you say, that would tarnish the game somehow, or otherwise lessen it by destroying it’s “purity.” But that’s an argument with merit, as it’s already a modified game from the men’s sport:

  • The WNBA ball is smaller
  • The WNBA 3-point line is closer
  • The WNBA games are shorter

Those are fairly major tweaks to the sport. Yet it continues to work fine. Lowering the rims would simply complete the conversion to parity with the men’s game.

Let’s examine another team sport that’s played by both men’s and women’s teams: volleyball. Both games are played with identical equipment and rules on the same court. The only difference is that the women’s net has been lowered to accomodate the fact that women are overall shorter than men. The lowering of the net in volleyball brings parity of the two games. And if you’re a fan of volleyball, you’d know that the women’s game is just as exciting as the men’s.

I did a quick search on Google and it told me that the average height for an NBA player was 6’6″. It appears that the average height of WNBA players is about 6′. I believe that I read that NBA players have an average vertical leap of 24″. My educated guess is that average WNBA player jumps 18″.

As a rule, it seems today that 95% of the players in the NBA can dunk a ball. Lowering the rim from ten feet to nine feet would make it possible for all the WNBA centers and forwards to certainly be able to dunk balls and probably a lot of the guards. That might not get you 95% but certainly a high number. Don’t you think that the possibility of a WBNA player flying down the lane and slamming the ball through the hoop in somebody’s face would generate some excitement? I certainly do. Would that make SportsCenter? You bet it would!

One final word to the purists. I bet you’re concerned that somehow players won’t be able to make jumpshots. Not a problem really. I’ve taken shots at lower baskets at schoolyards many times and quickly adjusted to the difference. To stick with the ten-foot baskets any longer is just being stubborn. WBNA, if you want to stay in business, listen to the people and bring the dunk into your game.

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