The Reaganomics of Women’s College Basketball:
How to Achieve the Appropriate Level of Play
During my year on sabbatical from coaching I have had the good fortune to observe, network and take notes from a multitude of women’s and men’s basketball programs from New Hampshire to West Virginia.
It was during my most recent travels to Pennsylvania where I watched a variety of programs – including top 25 programs at both the D1 and D2 levels – that my theory of what I call “The Reaganomics of Women’s College Basketball” was reaffirmed.
“Reaganomics” is an economic theory supported by President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980’s. The theory behind Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” policy was that tax cuts for the rich result in more jobs being created, higher wages for the average worker, and an overall upturn in the economy as the average worker spends and reinvests in the economy.
I see the state of women’s basketball, in regards to scholarships, close to same way. Cut scholarships at the highest level and let the dust settle.
Unlike their NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball counterparts, who are only allowed to award 13 scholarships, the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball bylaws currently allow programs to award 15 full scholarships to female student-athletes.
Currently the number of student-athletes who can play on a given night in a competitive basketball game are eight to ten realistically. That means if schools are distributing their full allotment (coaches may not have 15 full scholarships or may decide to hold a scholarship for specific recruiting needs) there are approximately five players who will not play throughout the entire season. This results in unhappy student-athletes because of their lack of playing time and with incoming freshmen being recruited and verballing earlier and earlier, in all actuality they may never play.
In order to fix this issue, I propose a scholarship cut, as Reagan proposed a tax cut for his “trickle-down” economic plan. Cutting two scholarships at the division I level would mean that potentially two fringe players from every Division I roster would most likely be reassigned to their appropriate level of play. For instance, two players at each school in a power conference, would find institutions where they could play (mid to low majors), and low major kids would most likely transition to Division II programs. The Division II programs’ fringe players would move to other Division II programs that they could excel at or move to Division III schools. There in turn allowing some Division III fringe student-athletes to move to other programs that better fit them or potentially stay to bulk Division III rosters and enrollment.
This change would affect 702 student athletes at 351 NCAA Division I programs. Take into account the “trickle-down” to Division II and III, and the number grows exponentially.
The benefits for less Division I scholarships would mean:
- Less Transfers – With not as many full scholarships at Division I level for coaches to take chances on, the probability of student-athletes transferring should decrease as there would be less options to move to, but more importantly, the student-athletes would not be signed as a “project” kid but rather be recruited at their appropriate level.
- Coaching Stability – Coaches will not have to be concerned with the 14th and 15th player on the bench being disgruntled scholarship athletes (they may be disgruntled walk-ons!) who are upset that they do not play because student-athletes are being recruited at the appropriate level.
- Happier Student-Athletes – Despite some student-athletes not being happy about not getting Division I or Division II scholarships or not being at a their first choice, they may fill the void of this financial burden or school choice with having a better career and getting a chance to play due to playing at the appropriate level. It is all about the student-athletes development as a persona and player in the long term.
- Save Time and Money – Less scholarships for Division I programs, should mean less money being spent on recruiting visits and recruiting budgets in general. Although it is certain that more schools will be pursing the same student-athlete(s) more heavily, the sheer number of scholarships should save both time and money.
Nevertheless, there are always potential pitfalls with any policy change. Potential negatives of this “trickle-down” strategy could be:
- More Stress – With less scholarships, student-athletes may feel the need to perform even more in order to keep their scholarship.
- Can’t Make Mistakes – Coaches will be more careful on offering scholarships to student-athletes because they will not have as much depth on their roster and they cannot afford to make mistakes on the recruiting trail. This could mean that coaches do spend more time on each individual recruit or it may mean that some coaches simply do a better job in the recruiting process.
- Missed Opportunity for Some Student-Athletes – The shifting of all of these student athletes could mean that, especially at Division II and III, some student-athletes would not be willing to choose a different school in the recruiting process for athletics and would rather stay at a given school. However, this missed opportunity for Player A would most likely result in Player B getting an opportunity. This means that the overall participation should not be influenced.
As a former Division II Head Coach in the Northeast-10 Conference, I was very reluctant to sign a Division I transfer due to the sentiment that I “owed them something” and that they were doing me “a favor” playing at the Division II level despite me giving them some (full or partial) scholarship dollars. That sense of entitlement was something that I was very cautious of and I have seen it time and time again at a variety of Division II schools/conferences.
I believe that cutting scholarships would essentially make coaches at the Division I level be more focused in their recruiting process and allow for Division II and eventually Division III coaches to reap the benefits of sharing talent and improving the overall play at all levels.
Having student-athletes play at their appropriate level in order to maximize their playing careers and overall experience is of the utmost importance. In addition, cutting scholarships and the resulting “trickle-down” affect would improve the game for the aforementioned reasons and give the game some much needed continuity for fans, players and coaches.
As Reagan noted, “only by reducing the growth of government, can we increase the growth of the economy.” Translation: “only by reducing scholarships, can we increase the growth of the game.”
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