While the past few years haven’t had the greatest endings for UConn fans, there’s no doubting that women’s basketball continues to be a sport on the rise. Ratings for the sport have never been higher, and the game continues to receive more and more buzz through both mainstream and social media. In an attempt to capitalize on that, the NCAA has released an unprecedented cross-division plan for decision making to help accelerate the sport’s rapid growth.
After consulting with nearly 1,000 different people with ties to the women’s game, the NCAA has decided to make a handful of changes on and off the court. They have plans to partner with the Sports Science Institute to promote mental health awareness, which is an increasingly important issue for college-aged people and many others across the world.
On top of this focus on mental health, the NCAA has some important changes in mind to make the on-court product even better.
Championship formats will be reevaluated to find better sites for NCAA tournament regionals. While the Final Four has always had a great atmosphere the past few years, finding regional sites with active and passionate fans should provide that same level of energy from the get-go.
Last week, the NCAA also announced all three divisions will play their national championship games in Dallas in 2023, the 50th anniversary of Title IX. This marks the second time the NCAA has done this, with the first being in 2016 in Indianapolis. Overall, it should be a truly special way to honor the strides women’s athletics have made since the law’s inception.
Most importantly, the NCAA wants to have more “qualified officials” available by increasing training, evaluations and accountability of these referees, something that the sport desperately needs.
As good as the product is on the court right now, women’s basketball referees are notoriously bad, even when compared to their counterparts on the men’s side. While the referees now are still able to make basic calls and control the flow of the game more often than not, anyone who has watched more than a few women’s games in their lifetime can see the need for some improvement.
This move will take time as current referees receive more training and rise through the ranks while the bad ones get filtered out, but it will certainly benefit the sport in the long one. The sport has already had success implementing change to improve the game by switching to quarters instead of halves, and expecting more out of the referees is the next logical step to making women’s basketball better than ever.
Later this summer, the NCAA will provide a more fleshed-out plan on how it hopes to achieve these goals. But by focusing on the needs of its student-athletes and increasing the quality of officiating, they are certainly on the right track to help the sport continue on its meteoric rise.