Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The "Repairmen" of Women's Sports

Ethan at Actionless Activity writes about the philosophy that women's basketball - or women's soccer, or any other game that women play - will only succeed if it becomes a scaled-down version of the men's game. He's writing about Women's Professional Soccer, but he's also writing about the WNBA:

Except, having read the whole article, I am aware that the author does in fact appreciate Women’s Professional Soccer. What seems to be at issue isn’t his own appreciation, but concern out of how to make the league more palatable to the sports enthusiasts at large.

Here is my professional, degreed, tenured, and expert opinion: You can’t.


Look, Cricket is Cricket is Cricket. They monkeyed around with the number of “overs” per game (the US-friendly, I dare say, version of this is called 20/20) to speed things along, but really, if Cricket isn’t your bag, shortening the length of the game, making the wickets closer together, increasing or reducing the number of players, blah blah blah won’t crack the wall of resistance that compels one to gag and say “I hate Cricket.”

It’s not a gender thing, notice.

Same goes for “I hate bass fishing,” “I hate lacrosse,” and “I hate drag racing.” It’s not the players, it’s the game.

There has been talk about the WNBA changing the rules/basket height/whatever else to make the league more fan-friendly. Nyet! Winning is fan-friendly. Actually being fan-friendly helps too.

I agree with Ethan in that for a lot of people, it's not the players, it's the game. And for women's basketball, it's not even the game - it's the fact that women are playing it. You could scale the basket height down to six feet and play the games on a court the size of a Best Western Hotel room and there would be a large number of sports followers that would still put down the women's game - they'd just shift their excuses. The haters see women's sport as a transgression against male sport; no amount of excellent play could ever change their minds.

I believe that the WNBA should be open to changing the rules, because they should be beholden really to the enjoyment of their fans and not some mythical standard of what someone else thinks basketball should be. I'm even open to the idea of lowering the rim to 9 1/2 feet - if the players want it and if the fans want it. Like I said on a message board, "if the players and fans want the rim lowered, you won't be able to stop it - but if they don't want it, you won't be able to spark it."

Granted, the NBA, WNBA, NCAA and FIBA all play by subtlely different rules - but it's still basketball. Take a player out of one setting and place him or her in another, and all they have to do is learn a few extra rules. Once you start making widescale changes, you don't have basketball anymore - you have a completely different sport. It might look like basketball, but it won't be.

So why make-over your sport for the benefit of people who not only don't respect you, but who are obstinately committed to never respecting you? Both the WPS and the WNBA should be wary of those that want to "repair" the sport. One should have an open mind to change, but there's such a thing as being too open.

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