The WNBA's first president feels that women's college basketball needs to make changes if the sport is to grow.
Val Ackerman was hired by the NCAA in November to assess the state of the women's game. In a report submitted last week, Ackerman advised a series of ideas that would help. They included moving the Final Four back to a Friday-Sunday format, exploring a two-site super regional for the second week of the NCAA tournament and returning to the top 16 teams hosting the first two rounds. In Ackerman's proposal, the eight-team super regionals would be awarded to sites for three years at a time.
"A lot of the ideas came from the membership," Ackerman said. "When I went into this, a piece of the process involved interviewing those who were associated with the sport. My questions were open-ended. What do you like? What would you change if you could? My sense was that ideas they've been kicking around for a long time. Some may not be new I just tried to corral them."
The women's basketball committee will meet next week in Nashville, Tenn., site of the 2014 Final Four, to discuss Ackerman's paper. They will be the ones to determine which, if any, of the recommendations they will implement.
While changing the dates of the Final Four may be more difficult for 2014, some of the other suggestions could be done for next year without too much trouble. No bids have been awarded yet for the opening two rounds and sites haven't been announced for the regionals.
"I think the best way to answer that is to say that in 2014 there are number of things that are doable," said Anucha Browne Sanders, NCAA vice president for women's basketball. "Changing dates to a Friday-Sunday format, top 16 teams hosting, those require some logistical challenges that we need to address."
Gary Alexander, who is in charge of the Nashville Local Organizing Committee, said it was asked if it could move the dates of the Final Four.
"We are looking to answer that question for Anucha and the women's basketball committee," he said. "We have to check with the arena, the convention center and all the hotels."
Many of Ackerman's ideas aimed at boosting attendance, which has become stagnant over the past few years. Last season, the NCAA averaged 5,466 for all tournament rounds, which was 17th since the tournament began in 1982.
Ackerman suggested that moving forward in 2015 and beyond, the NCAA tournament could even have the top 32 teams host opening round games. Some of the most well-attended sites over the past few seasons have included teams not in the top 16 such as Gonzaga and Delaware. Ackerman would also like to see all three divisions have their championship games in one city — something the men did this year for the first time. She even went as far as to suggest that the NCAA should look into having the men's and women's Final Four in the same city to gauge its popularity. That couldn't happen until 2017 at the earliest.
"At first glance, I liked some of the proposals," said MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor. "I personally favor going to the top 32 seeds for the first round. It's a great way to get a lot of local interest at a wide range of schools. It also can save money by having 32 teams travel in the first round instead of 48."
A longer-term idea that Ackerman advocates for, if the NCAA decides to keep the women's Final Four separate from the men, is to establish a multi-year site for the championship similar to the college baseball world series in Omaha. She also even explored the possibility of moving the entire tournament dates.
"It was a tremendous exercise and Val's done a masterful job at this point," WBCA Chief Executive Officer Beth Bass said. "They'll be some components that will be a lightning rod for discussions by our membership. We need some change. We need a jumpstart for our sport right now."
Ackerman conducted hundreds of interviews over the past six months with coaches, college presidents, athletic directors and other advocates of women's basketball. Besides addressing the NCAA tournament, she also looked at the regular season.
She said there should be at least two fewer regular-season games to help alleviate some of the wear and tear and allow the student-athlete to have a more balanced educational experience. She suggested reducing the number of scholarships from 15 to 13 to help spread the talent out to more schools.
On a rules front, Ackerman thinks colleges should play with a 24-second shot clock and use four 10-minute quarters instead of two halves. This past season teams shot 39 percent from the field that resulted in an all-time low in scoring of 62.1 points a game. That's down nearly eight points from the first year of NCAA play in 1981-82.
"Scoring to me matters," Ackerman said. "That really surprised me. I didn't realize the scope of that sort of trajectory going in that direction."
None of those rules changes could be implemented until the 2015-16 season because the NCAA goes on a two-year cycle.
Other areas she'd like addressed include conference tournaments and officiating.
"She did a great service for the NCAA reviewing all the issues in front of the game," Ensor said. "It's a well-thought-out report that gives the membership some interesting issues to review and resolve."