Level the Playing Field?

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Women continue to push the limits of what elite athletes can do in many sports. Even though women have proved over and over that they are more than capable to play every sport at incredibly high level, some sports still take into account natural physical differences between men and women when completing their rules. Women’s tees in golf are closer than the men’s, their hurdles are lower in track, the nets are lower in women’s volleyball, and in women’s Olympic weightlifting, the diameter of the bar in smaller. The base paths in softball are 30 feet shorter than those in baseball, and the outfield fences are much closer as well.  These regulations take into account natural physical averages that are lower for women than men such as hand size and height.  On average, women in America are 5 to 6 inches shorter than the average man, which makes sports with a height based regulations much harder.  In sprinting events men’s hurdles are 42 inches high while women’s hurdles are 9 inches shorter at 33 inches. The women’s volleyball net is 8 inches shorter than the men’s net.  This allows for a competition field where the explosiveness and athleticism of female athletes is still showcased.  Volleyball players are able to kill the ball the same way a men’s player, who is much taller, is able to. While there are differences in the regulations between some men’s and women’s sports, it is still entertaining to watch.

One sport is noticeably missing from the list of sports with differing regulations between the sexes. Basketball is a sport that shares many of the same characteristics athletically as volleyball and running hurdles.  Vertical leaps play a large role in the game on both offense and defense and the high-flying nature of the game helps to add excitement.  The regulation height for the basketball rim is 10 feet from the floor. This height is not a problem for NBA players who on average are 6’ 7” tall with a reach of almost 9 feet. Many players are well over 7 feet tall and are exceptionally athletic.  The can easily jump and dunk the ball, or put the ball straight through the hoop. The slam-dunk is often seen as the most exciting play in basketball, and when it happens it energizes fans watching the game and players playing in it. Most NBA games have multiple dunks performed by both teams that are then replayed numerous times on sports highlight shows, the Internet, and all across social media.  Women’s basketball is a little different. The average athlete in WNBA is 6 feet tall with the tallest players usually only reaching 6 feet 8 inches tall. It is much harder for the shorter players to reach the 10-foot benchmark, let alone get over that height in order to dunk a ball. While the number of dunks in the NBA is almost innumerable, while the number of dunks in the wnba is still under 20.  The discrepancy in the number of highflying plays is one reason certain critics give for the lower viewership numbers during wnba games.

This brings up a question that has been asked many times before.  Should the rims in women’s basketball be lowered? In an interview given in March 2016, the reigning MVP of the WNBA Elena Delle Donne said that she feels lowering the rim could be the most important thing to happen for the game of women’s basketball. A lower rim would allow a new level of athleticism and speed to be displayed and as Delle Donne put it, would “let every single player in the league play above the rim like the NBA.” She isn’t the only person that feels this would be a good idea. Record holding coach Geno Auriemma, whose teams regularly dominates NCAA women’s basketball, said he fully supports the idea of lowering the rim 7 inches to change the way the women’s game is played.  In a 2012 interview, he cited lower attendance as a reason that the game needs a new demission.  He felt a lower rim would give the game what it needed to attract more viewers and fans. Not all participants feel the same. Diana Taurasi said that she saw the lowering of the rim as a step backward in a sexist direction. She said, “Might as well put us in skirts and back in the kitchen” when asked if she felt the change would help.  The idea is very divisive one with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. While it might cost certain organizations such as high schools and colleges money to change the rim height, the benefits from it would be well worth the change in my opinion.  The amount of buzz generated by women show their athletic prowess above the rim would be enjoyable for new viewers and old fans alike.

“UConn Coach Geno Auriemma Says Lower The Rim In Women’s College Game.” Tribunedigital-thecourant. October 22, 2012. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://articles.courant.com/2012-10-22/sports/hc-uconn-women-1023-20121022_1_geno-auriemma-rim-cptv-sports.

“Fagan on Why Lower Rims in Women’s Basketball Is Flawed.” EspnW. March 31, 2016. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/15090920/fagan-why-lower-rims-women-basketball-flawed.

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3 thoughts on “Level the Playing Field?

  1. So after watching that video, I definitely looked up a video of men basketball dunks for comparison. I was surprised by the minor differences I noticed. Men seem to be able to jump from a lot further back to dunk the ball, plus they were able to come in a lot higher above the net than the women were. I’ve never thought about this being a reason for lower viewership of the WNBA, but it totally makes sense. I personally agree that the hoops should be lowered. Imagine volleyball with nets at the same height for women as for men – it would be very different! And that’s not a slam on female athletes at all. Recognizing that men and women are different is an important part of striving for equality.

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  2. Yeah lowering the rims would make women’s basketball a laughing stock. The small ball is already enough of an object of mockery. Let’s let basketball be basketball. History will frown upon any fool who supported the lower hoop.

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    1. I don’t think lowering the rim would make a sport a laughing stock at all. Women’s Golf is not a laughing stock even though the tee boxes are closer. Women’s track and field is not a laughing stock even though the hurdles are lower. Women’s volleyball is not a laughing stock even though the net is lower. Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross saw all of their matches aired on prime time during the Olympics even though they play on a net that is lower than the men’s. Viewers wanted to see pure athletic ability, and they did. I don’t think history will frown on me for saying it would be an interesting experiment to lower the rim in women’s basketball and watch Maya Moore, Skylar Diggins, and Candace Parker start dunking on people and see if viewership doesn’t go up. It’s not always about tradition, but about showcasing the amazing athletic abilities of female athletes.

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