Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Acacia's View: Male Practice Ban Absurd Concept

Guru's Note: One day after presenting Acacia O'Connor as the newest member of the Guru's blog squad, she returns in column mode to comment on the male practice player controversy.

Acacia has played on Vassar's women's team, thus offering a viewpoint from a Division III perspective.

-- Mel

By Acacia O’Connor

Recently there has been a lot of commentary on the proposal issued by the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics to ban the use of male practice players in women’s college athletics.

The main reason for the proposal, according to the committee, is to provide as many opportunities for growth and improvement as possible to female athletes.

The committee claims the inclusion of male players in a practice setting takes the chance to be challenged away from bench players.

As someone who has been that female bench player at a Division III level, I have to say I think the CWA's concept is a little bit absurd.

Now, I would consider myself a feminist, certainly a proponent for gender equality and a strong supporter of Title IX.

I hate it when people try to get me to “accept the fact” that guys are just anatomically more athletic than girls.

However, I think eliminating male practice players would not succeed in doing the good the CWA hopes to accomplish.

I can only speak from my experience right now — I’m not certain how or how frequently practice players are used at the DI level — but even as the last player on the bench, I never questioned the use of men in our practice or begrudged their presence.

During my first two years at Vassar, our coach would bring in five or six guys every once in awhile to scrimmage against us.

Since we only had twelve players, it allowed us to split into two teams and have a three-way scrimmage. That way, everyone got to play and also got a little bit of a rest.

Furthermore, as beneficial as it is to scrimmage against your teammates, there are limitations to how effective your plays and game are against yourself.

Even though I was not as talented as some of our starters, by my sophomore year I knew their games inside and out.

I could predict exactly how people would shoot and who favored their right side.

And we all knew the plays, how to frustrate the starters, and how to cheat around screens — something that is useful and challenging, but entirely different from what they will face from an opponent.

Even great, extensive scouting can’t make the players and plays as familiar as they became being on the team.

Far from taking away opportunities, I got to play against the guys along with everyone else, which without doubt improved my game.

And even if I hadn’t played in those practices, their playing against the starting lineup would have been a valuable experience for the team.

Of course, players on the bench always want to get better and gain more playing time.

But if you are a bench player at the DIII level (at any level for that matter), you already understand that `team' is bigger than yourself.

Action limited to only a couple minutes per game is a frustration you must suck up.

Why?

Because it’s what’s right for your team.

When you work to get better, usually you're on your own.

Read the stories of the legends of the women's game -- Diana Taurasi, Nancy Lieberman, Cheryl Miller, Dawn Staley, to name just a few -- and you'll learn of the countless hours they spent on their own in gyms and schoolyards honing their skills.

This year, I got a different look at what practice players do for a team.

I was a practice player myself, due to the fact that I will be studying in Italy for the spring semester, consequently missing all of our league competitions.

Practice players are chosen as such because they want to help the team.

Most of our practice players have been some of our team’s biggest fans, something that is important at small schools.

They would do more than scrimmage against us. Some would give us tips or offer to shoot around on off days.

Most importantly, they would be there in the stands to give their vocal support -- some of the few students on our highly academic campus that cared about the results of the women’s games.

Now, a few of those guys are my close friends and I’ve gone to them in the off-season to gain their help to improve my game.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at here, is that I would hate to see male practice players banned from our gyms.

The CWA's concerns are legitimate. Upholding the values of Title IX is vitally important.

However, I’m not at all convinced that complete elimination of male practice players, a valuable tool in many respects, is the way to go.

-- Acacia

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