The scoreboard read 98-18. That was the result of the preseason NCAA exhibition game played between the University of Connecticut and Vanguard University women’s basketball teams on Nov. 8.
Despite winning by 80 points, the three-time defending national champion Huskies viewed the game as an experiment to see if new rules implemented specifically for that game would prove effective.
UConn received special permission from the NCAA to test a set of experimental rules for their final exhibition game.
One of the more drastic rule changes included moving the 3-point line back 16 inches from standard NCAA distance, making it more challenging to shoot from beyond the arc.
The teams played with men’s basketballs as well, which are larger in dimension and tend to bounce lower than women’s basketballs. This could affect dribbling and turnovers.
Another rule change decreased the shot clock to 24 seconds from a traditional 30-second clock, which was changed to encourage the game to move at a faster pace.
The rule changes were part of an attempt to identify ways to enhance women’s basketball at the NCAA level, said Cameron Schuh, associate director of multimedia communications for the NCAA.
“Statistics from the game, as well as regular season games for both teams, will be compared and submitted to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee for analysis after the upcoming season,” Schuh said.
For the UF women’s basketball program, players and coaches said that the 24-second shot clock would encourage more defensive improvement on their part.
January Miller, a senior guard, said the scrimmages the Gators conducted in the preseason revealed some defensive weaknesses.
“We did pretty well, but I feel like it doesn’t hurt to work on defense,” she said.
Head Coach Amanda Butler echoed that sentiment. A high level of awareness on defense and being a good transition team are her top priorities with or without the rule changes, she said.
Assistant Coach Bill Ferrara works with the guards on UF’s women’s basketball team. He said it was great for the NCAA to think outside the box and find ways to improve women’s basketball.
“If you are a pure basketball fan, then some of the rule changes could help our game be more exciting,” Ferrara said. “If we are talking about increasing attendance and increasing TV ratings, rules won’t make a difference. The evolution of young and more talented women’s basketball players will.”
With or without rule changes, UF women’s basketball will be one of the fastest teams in the country this year, Ferrara said.
“I think that our players would be in favor of any rules that can help us play at a faster pace,” he said. “They love the way we are playing this year, and we are constantly talking to them about controlling the tempo and playing at ‘our pace.’”
Shellie Greenman, the program assistant for UF women’s basketball, said she thinks more than one university needs to test these rules before proceeding. She added that she likes the way the game is played now, but a few small changes might work out better than multiple larger ones.
“I think these changes have a long way to go,” Greenman said. “The changes are going to take some getting used to and really change how we coach end-of-game special situations.”
She said that making men’s and women’s college basketball more similar to each other is probably not the NCAA’s end goal.
“We made the changes to the smaller ball and closer 3-point line for a reason, and I honestly don’t see any reason why we should go back to how it was,” Greenman said. “I think we have two different games, played two different ways and that is OK.”
Schuh said that the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee conducts surveys with every school in the country to determine if a rule change is warranted. The next steps involve testing the effectiveness of the rules in game situations and getting feedback from those directly involved.
At this time, no other women’s basketball program has come forward wanting to test these new rules, according to the NCAA. However, the data collected will be used to make rule changes in the future. No changes are expected to be made this season.
Greenman said the average fan wants quality basketball, and that typically means scoring. But if the pace becomes too fast with a shorter shot clock, turnovers may increase and scoring will not come as easily.
Ferrara echoed these concerns. He said that he feels a deeper 3-point line would lead to lower scoring in women’s basketball, the opposite of what the NCAA would ideally like to see happen.
“One of the best parts about women’s basketball is that our players can shoot it from deep just as well, if not better, than the men,” Ferrara said. “I wouldn’t want to see less of that.”