Women's sport in general has always been dancing on the precipice of failure. Take any sport, and the female variant or league is generally struggling to gain revenue and viewership. Women's cricket for instance - next to no interest at all in most of the sub-continent. Women's football exists purely at an amateur level, and a professional level exists mainly in the States as far as I know. Women's tennis does well, thanks mainly to the Williams' sisters and whoever is better looking in a skirt these days. Women's water polo is a horror film of underwater cutting, tearing and scratching.
Then there's women's basketball.
The WNBA, which is the women's league of the more popular National Basketball Association, has been active since 1997, making it a relatively new league. There are 16 teams, moderate attendances, and average to little interest in the sport. There have been many suggestions on how to improve the interest in the league, and the latest one has me all annoyed.
There are many small variations in the sport internationally, but generally all the principles of the game are the same. Standard court sizes, standard ball size, standard rules except for one or two minor tweaks. Now, the innovators think that we need to change some of these to suit women; they want to reduce the height of the rim from 10 feet to 9'6".
There's a reason I'm extremely against this. First of all, it's a silly idea simply because the premise behind this alteration is that women will display more 'high flying' feats of athleticism, thus bringing more people to the games. Secondly, they feel that shooting percentages will go up, thus making it more interesting to watch. Both these assumptions are wrong. The WNBA is not going to have more fans entering stadiums just because a few women will now be able to graze in a two-handed dunk all alone on a fastbreak. Neither are they going to be interested just because the ball goes in 1%-2% more often than earlier.
However, the main reason I'm against this is because it - yes I'm going to say this - defiles the sanctity of the sport.
Look, sport is rarely made for a particular sex. Suggesting that we alter the height of the rim simply because men are taller makes absolutely no sense to me; what about school yards and colleges? Are we going to have a system that reduces the hoop height just because girls are playing? Is that the message we want to send women anyway, that they're just not tall enough to play with the 'boys'? What about short guys? I haven't played with anyone who came close to being able to dunk; how come we don't have shorter hoops for the sub-continent?
Sport is sport; it is universal and applies to both genders equally. By altering the rules to suit women, we set a precedent that kind of negates the point of sports in the first place. If the idea is to see how many times you can shoot a ball into a hoop in 45 minutes, wouldn't it make sense to improve your skill rather than reduce the goal?
This whole problem starts because we compare the women's game to the men's game, which is a fundamentally flawed and unfair comparison. Men and women play the game at a very high level, just with different skill sets. While the men's game is definitely more polished and more athletic, it's taken years of evolution to come to this stage. Back in the 60's, it was unheard of to see the kind of dunks, crossovers and blocks we see nowadays. We don't even have to go that far back; just in 2000, Vince Carter's through the legs dunk at the dunk competition had people falling out of the aisles. Now, people expect players to dunk over cars or dunk on two hoops at the same time for anyone to take notice.
The women's game will have to make a similar evolution. I'm not saying that women will start performing 'flying death machine' alley-oops (they might though) but the game will definitely improve, given time and input. Let's not forget; the NBA was as good as dead before the famous Lakers - Celtics, Magic Johnson - Larry Bird rivalries of the late 70's and early 80's. That's what got the crowds in, and got television ratings up. The women's game needs that kind of renaissance as well.
Not a shorter hoop.