Former WNBA President Val Ackerman in a report submitted last week advised the NCAA with "a series of ideas" that would help grow women's college basketball, including "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 host the first two rounds," according to Doug Feinberg of the AP. In Ackerman's proposal, the "eight-team super regionals would be awarded to sites for three years at a time." The women's basketball committee will "meet next week in Nashville, Tenn., site of the 2014 Final Four, to discuss Ackerman's paper." Its members 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." Many of Ackerman's ideas "aimed at boosting attendance, which has become stagnant over the past few years." Ackerman suggested that in '15 and beyond the NCAA tournament "could even have the top 32 teams host opening round games." 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 World Series. She also "explored the possibility of moving the entire tournament dates" (AP, 6/18). Ackerman said, "The goal isn't necessarily to make money. The prevailing thought is that women's basketball can do better -- commercializing, attracting new fans. The sport lends itself to being something much bigger than what it is" (USATODAY.com, 6/17). Ackerman said that the "'sport needs a jolt' in order to spark growth and there is 'a tremendous appetite for change' in the way the sport is played, marketed and managed" (Lafayette JOURNAL & COURIER, 6/18).
MORE TO DO: In N.Y., Jere Longman notes some "important matters were not explored, like how to address lesbianism more openly." Ackerman still has "made a serious study of the need to broaden the appeal of women’s college basketball beyond older fans and families to more students and casual fans, to enhance officiating and improve governance, to increase scoring, and to boost revenue in the sport when the average operating deficit for teams from the top conferences is more than" $2M. She gave the NCAA "several paths to consider." One is to "simulate tennis and hold a Grand Slam of basketball, playing the men’s and women’s Final Fours simultaneously in the same city on a trial basis." Another is to "take advantage of the international appeal of women’s basketball by holding the Final Four in a country like Russia or China." Ackerman said that one way to "create more competitive balance ... was to reduce scholarships from 15 to 13 per university," and use the "two leftover scholarships for other women’s sports" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/18). ESPNW's Michelle Smith wrote the question was "never whether the women's game needed a shakeup." It has been "whether the NCAA would be willing to do it on a wholesale level." Smith: "Now we will find out" (ESPNW.com, 6/17).