Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Cutting off the nose to spite the face

Wednesday December 20, 2006

The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics has proposed a ban on the use of male practice players for women’s teams. You might or might not know that it’s a common practice to augment the practice squads of women’s teams (mostly basketball, but others do it also) with men, usually volunteers, in order to improve the level of competition in practice.

That’s apparently an abomination.

The thing about this recommendation is that the committee seems so rabid about the gender issues involved that they completely missed how these practice squads are used. Coaches and players from across the country have chimed in over the past week setting the record straight. The opposition is nearly unanimous. Did the CWA even research the issue?

I’ve seen Georgia practices where there were only eight or so scholarship players, and the managers and coaches – male and female – had to be pressed into service while the starters and reserves rotated in and out. Even when there are enough players for two squads, you want your starters and reserves running your plays while a practice squad simulates the opponent. You also have to consider that you often won’t have a full squad able to go full-speed in every practice because of injury or fatigue. This isn’t football where you have entire practice squads of freshmen and walk-ons. Either the reserves must take time away from their development to be the practice dummies, or you can get outside help. Why not use women volunteers? Quick – find a female on campus to simulate Candace Parker. You won’t find many men who can do what Parker does, but at least you might find a few 6’4" guys with decent basketball skills. Any female who fits that bill is probably already on the team.

Don’t take my testosterone-clouded word for it. How about two women who have been advocates of the game for decades? Ask All-American Ivory Latta. "Love ’em. That’s how they make us better. They give us attitude. They give us the killer instinct." Even the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, hardly timid when it comes to sticking up for the women’s game, is opposed to the proposal. "It’s mind boggling that this is what’s getting all the focus,” said WBCA president Beth Bass. But of course they’d oppose the proposal. The WBCA represents the coaches – the people who understand how these practice squads are actually used.

The CWA’s response to the criticism is hilarious. "There are many ways (training, nutrition, etc.) that female student-athletes can work on getting faster and stronger," they replied. Sure. You can also build strength by chopping wood, but most student-athletes prefer the weight room. Coaches and players in the women’s game have found a technique which they feel best trains them. The CWA continues, "Athletes at every level have continued to evolve through drills and practice without including bigger, stronger and faster opponents in these drills." Right again. But when those "bigger, stronger and faster opponents" are available, you’d be a fool not to make use of them.

For the sake of gender purity and not equity this committee would retard the growth and development of female athletes and women’s sports. This is what happens when you have academics and social scientists making uninformed policy decisions for athletics. They’re willing to deny a proven and valuable training tool in order to address a problem that doesn’t exist – as if there were scores of female student-athletes sitting wistfully a few rows up in the gym every day wondering if this might be the day that Coach lets them practice. Of all of the issues facing women’s sports, they’ve chosen to attack a positive force helping the development of those sports. Michigan State coach Joanne McCallie is exactly right: "It’s absolutely absurd. It’s short-sighted. It’s got nothing to do with equity and everything to do with politics." It makes you wonder what kind of research and thought went into some of the other regulations that govern college sports.

Comments are closed.