You play like a girl! Changing Women’s Basketball Rules Diminishes Notions of Equality

by BREANA BACON

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the game of basketball. My father played in high school then became a coach after college, my younger brother was the star player on our street and my mother was the biggest Laker fan in the world. It seemed natural for me to love basketball because everyone around me loved it. The kids in my neighborhood would gather in my driveway a few times a week to play pickup and I’d play too, just because everyone else was doing it. Granted, I was never too skilled but that never stopped me from putting up a couple shots.

One thing I loved most about playing was that the guys on my block never told me I couldn’t play because I was a girl– and they didn’t take it easy on me because of that either.  I grew up playing scrappy streetball with boys twice my size and about a billion times my level of talent. I got knocked around, heard a lot of trash talk and can’t count the number of my shots that were blocked into my neighbor’s driveway.

To me, there was no difference between men’s and women’s basketball. Of course, I knew there were different leagues for men and women, but other than that, I believed they were one and the same. Now, at 20 years old, I still believe there should be no difference, which is why I was outraged at the changes to the playing rules of NCAA Women’s basketball.

According to NCAA.com, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the Rules Committee’s recommendation to have the women’s game played in four 10-minute quarters instead of 20-minute halves next season. The men’s time clock will remain as is. The rule comes with the intent of enhancing the flow of the women’s game and to increase the number of points per possession.

Along with the changes in time, women’s teams will now enter the bonus, shooting two free throws after five fouls instead of shooting one-and-one free throws after seventh team foul and reaching the double bonus after 10 fouls. Also, the fouls will reset to zero for each team at the beginning of each quarter, but the fouls obtained at the end of the fourth quarter will follow each team into overtime periods.

In addition to these rules, teams will also be allowed to advance the ball to the frontcourt if they call a timeout after a made basket in the last minute of the game and in overtime. Instead of inbounding the ball under the basket, teams will instead inbound from the 28-foot mark near the scorer’s table in order to “add more excitement to offensive possessions at the ends of games because teams would no longer be required to travel the length of the court after inbounding the ball.”

I am not an NCAA athlete, nor am I remotely good enough to play basketball at a collegiate level, but I am a woman who likes her equality just as she enjoys her hot sauce: on everything. These rules not only insinuate that women’s basketball needs concessions made for it, but it also eliminates a fan’s ability to decide whether they believe women’s basketball is interesting and exciting or not.

The logic behind these new rules is supposedly to increase the pace of play in terms of points per possession and game, however if you look at the statistics, the highest average of points per game per team for women is 5.2 points higher than that of men. Adjusting these points for the slight inflation due to the difference in talent on the women’s powerhouse teams in comparison to the less competitive schools, the difference between the two statistics is not overwhelmingly large. Women may score less points than men do, but any given night, that notion could be reversed. If men start scoring less in games, do they get 10-minute quarters too? I’m not betting on it.

Out of all the rules, I think the new team foul limit bothers me the most. Everyone who knows basketball relates seven team fouls to one-and-one free throws. That’s the way I learned the game and that’s the way its been played with no public cries of outrage from women’s basketball players or coaches. The game is inherently physical and I would think that continuing to battle through fouls would be how women prove that they are just as tough as men on the hardwood. Sending them to the charity stripe earlier and resetting the fouls after every quarter not only takes away from the physicality of the game, its a direct insult to the basketball IQ of these women.

As students of the game, its up to them to figure out a way to keep the opponent from the free throw line to get those easy points and seeing the intensity that the players exhibit when they know they only have one foul to give and the game is tied in the fourth quarter is a basketball lovers dream. But this new rule just made that dream a nightmare.

As I said before, I believe that there should be no difference in the way that men and women play the game. After all, if you ask some female NCAA athletes how they grew up playing their respective sport, they’d answer that they played with the boys. Some of these women, just like me, learned the game from boys and men who didn’t know any other way to play so there was no real difference.

But now, as there is much debate over the role of women in the sports industry whether it be the media, spectators or those playing the sport itself, it seems like the norm is now to “dumb it down.” It makes me sick to see men on social media and on television shows poking fun at women who have taken an interest in sports and ask questions about rules or ask what team a player is on. It hurts me to see them accuse these women of attempting to sound knowledgeable about sports to gain the attention of men, when some of these women know more about sports than the chauvinistic men who tweet about them being clueless.

To me, these rules are placing that chauvinism on a more formal and public stage. These rules reek of sexism and give the impression that these women playing with more passion and heart than I see professional men’s players exert is simply not enough.  These rules are overly feminizing the game of basketball, making it more “female-friendly” when a good number of these women would be able to hold their own against the boys. Just look at 13-year-old Little League star Mo’ne Davis, who isn’t even of college age, putting Kevin Hart, a grown man who isn’t too shabby at basketball, in a spin cycle at the Celebrity Game during the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend.

It’s preposterous to me that women are still seen as such fragile and helpless creatures especially in a contact sport where respect is supposed to be demanded by the way you play, not by your gender. It amazes me that women in 2015 are still being treated as lesser in the sports industry, despite athletes like Serena Williams winning her 20th French Open while battling the flu and not being able to take any medication to remedy the illness because of strict doping rules in tennis. Despite noted sports journalist Andrea Kremer being acclaimed as one of “TV’s best sports correspondents of either sex” by TV Guide. Despite the UConn women’s basketball team breaking the record for the longest winning streak in NCAA history with 90 wins during the 2012-13 season. Regardless of how the story is spun, rules like the ones the NCAA has passed belittle the accomplishments of female athletes and the hard work they put in to achieve them.

The NCAA give women’s basketball players a crutch that was not necessary or progressive towards the supposed goal of equality. I’m not buying the bull about the new rules helping players get a better feel for the professional game. If that’s the case, why didn’t the men’s rules change? Why don’t the men get to take the ball out at the scorers table to “increase excitement” at the end of close games? Why don’t the men get less fouls before free throws?

The issue isn’t talent — a theory which FiveThirtyEight recently debunked. The top NCAA women’s teams recruit just about as well as the top men’s basketball teams but there are a lack of upsets in the Women’s NCAA Tournament because it is the more mature tournament with teams performing “relatively closer to their expectations.” The issue lies in the tired idea that women are inferior to men in all aspects. An idea that is being disproved in the workplace, in the home and in academia. In my opinion, men are becoming okay with taking the loss in those areas, but when it boils down to their beloved sports, God forbid a woman shows them up.

I think women’s basketball is just as exciting as men’s, an opinion unpopular with most of the country and maybe even the world. But as unpopular as that idea may be, equality is one that everyone seems to be on board with. But is further changing the rules of the game to fit gender stereotypes and claiming that it’s to add excitement really promoting equality? Or is it just adding to the problem?