Yow: Lower baskets will raise women's attendance

December 27, 1990|By Melissa Isaacson | Melissa Isaacson,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Kay Yow lowers her voice to just above a whisper, and you picture her slipping on a pair of dark shades and an overcoat, maybe drawing the blinds.

Yow, the North Carolina State women's basketball coach and coach of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, knows what she is about to say is not a popular opinion. She knows, in fact, that the very idea infuriates many of her colleagues.

But here's the thing.

She wants to see the slam dunk in the women's game. And she doesn't feel like waiting much longer. So Yow advocates, gulp, lowering the baskets for women.

Novel, yes. A new idea, no. But there is more involved than gaining one shot. It's all about where the women's game is going and where it used to be and just how far it is willing to go to mirror the men's game, to reach a level where the women's version will be universally accepted by the average sports fan. If that is indeed the goal, then, say people like Yow, there must be changes.

"Let's face it; we have a problem with spectator appeal throughout the country," she says. "And I think we would gain a lot of fans if we had players who could dunk. We have the same game as the men, but yet it's obviously not the same game when men play it. You're always going to have expectations."

For the present, anyway, those expectations are unrealistic. Only a handful of women can dunk. Southern California freshman Lisa Leslie does it in practice, but the only woman to have ever dunked in a game is Georgeann Wells, a 6-foot-7 center from West Virginia, who did it once during the 1984-85 season. So it follows that if playing above the basket is desired, something has to be done. The question is how far to go.

"Women are still in a growth period," says Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney. "The men's game in the last 20 years has grown leaps and bounds. With rules adjustments, the three-point shot, the dunk, they had a great game and made it greater. I would encourage women to experiment the same way, to take the best in the men's game and look at their own game."

Northwestern coach Don Perrelli will agree to a certain point. "Everyone talks about men playing the game above the basket," he says. "That aggressiveness -- the dunking of the ball -- seems to be a key. The game's going to be a little more exciting when that happens."

But lower the rim? "Oh, I would hate that," Perrelli responds quickly. "As one coach said, 'Why not just put a hole in the ground and throw the ball into it?' "

The women already have adopted the shot clock and the three-point shot, like their male counterparts. But Delaney, chairman of the NCAA men's tournament selection committee and a guard under Dean Smith at North Carolina, is not an advocate of copying the men's game completely.

"It would be counterproductive to look at the men's game as a model," he says. "The women's game has more finesse. I have a concern that officiating and coaching have followed the men's game in being too physical. If you don't have the strength and quickness to counteract that, it tends to slow the game down . . . It negates the things they do best, which are shooting and passing."

It is that attitude, however, that frustrates many women's coaches. Responding to the theory that women don't have the strength and quickness to counteract a physical game, Purdue coach Linn Dunn replies: "If you're trying to play against a men's team, yeah. But girls are starting younger, and I see us getting bigger, stronger and faster, also. It's just like the men's game."

Yow says: "There were physical teams 10 years ago. There are just more of them now. And not only has it become a more physical game in the paint, but it's more physical on the perimeter. Everyone is stronger than they were 10 years ago.

"The game was called much tighter then. So the whole philosophy of officiating has also changed. When we first started, you couldn't even have the appearance of a real physical game."

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