The Reaganomics of Women’s College Basketball

By Bert DeSalvo

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. More Stress – With less scholarships, student-athletes may feel the need to perform even more in order to keep their scholarship.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

Bert DeSalvo is a former Division I men’s assistant, Division III and II head and assistant women’s coach. Follow him on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

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Bert DeSalvo

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April 7, 2015 – Tampa FL, USA – Notre Dame’s bench starting to realize the outcome in the second half during the NCAA Women’s Championship Game between Notre Dame and Connecticut at Amalie Arena in Tampa FL. (Credit Image: © Del Mecum/Cal Sport Media/

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  2. Christie Tomasino said:

    Coach, great read. Couldn’t agree more. Would certainly lessen the amount of disgruntled players at the end of the bench. Too many players these days play at a level higher than they should which results in too many transfers each year.

    • Bert DeSalvo said:

      I think that is key. College basketball shouldn’t be “nails on a chalkboard” for coaches and players. Not everyone will be happy, but cutting two scholarships will make it less contentious hopefully.

      Coach Lin Dunn mentioned in a tweet to me it could be a Title IX issue. I agree. Maybe by cutting these scholarships in WBB, athletic departments could allocate them to other female sports. That way female opportunities remain the same…or may even increase because finding two walkons in WBB should be relatively easy, while giving some monies to sports that are not as high profile.

  3. Courtney said:

    Coach great article and a very interesting perspective on scholarships. I think that limiting the scholarships to 13 could definitely place players at the appropriate levels and have a trickle down effect as you explain. I think there would be less Div. I schools taking a chances in kids because they wouldn’t have the scholarships to do so and agree it could limit the transfer because kids would be happier to begin with. However I still think you’ll get kids who are not happy with playing time regardless if they are scholarship or not.

  4. Tim moore said:

    Great article coach. I couldn’t agree more. I see players all the time that commit to D1 and DII programs n think to myself they are in over their heads. However if the schools have the money to spend that’s not their fault.

    • Bert DeSalvo said:

      I completely understand from a D1 perspective. If you have 15 full scholarships, you definitely take a chance on a 6’3″ kid who doesn’t really love it and is not super skilled but has the size. The problem is if you don’t love it and are only playing because it’s what you are supposed to do and/or it’s free, that catches up to student-athletes and programs in the long run.

  5. Ryan Stevenson said:


    First, love to see your finally putting that history background to good use! Haha

    In all seriousness, solid aticle…as posted above enjoy the take on lessening scholarships at women’s D1. The transfer EPIDEMIC, is out of control and that is a great way to limit it. Coaches would benefit at all levels!

    D1 coaches might not like the concept initially, but when looking at how their programs are impacted (most on a yearly basis) with transfer…it makes so much sense! I think solid D2 and D3 coaches would love the concept. Having spend several years coaching and recruiting at the D2 level…I can’t tell you how many times…we lost out on a GREAT D2 kid, that followed the allure to a D1 program, ( and eventually transferred back down to her true division).

    Great read, keep it up!


    • Bert DeSalvo said:

      Thanks Coach Stevenson for the feedback.

      It should be ALL ABOUT THE STUDENT-ATHLETES. It might pain some of them to not get a D1 or D2 offer, but again in the long-run it may be the best thing for them.

      FYI, Reaganomics was a economic policy failure by all accounts. I was merely trying to use that theory to relay the “trickle down” effect. Good theory/poor execution for Reagan. Hopefully, good theory/good execution for Women’s Basketball.

  6. Bert DeSalvo said:

    Playing time is always an issue and not everyone will be happy. It has been and always will be an issue for coaches at all levels. As coaches, we all know that in most cases the 2nd leading scorer wants to be the leading scorer, the 6th man wants to start, etc. It is the nature of the beast and to a certain extent coaches want/need this competitive mentality.

    I guess my concern is that if fringe players, who don’t really ever have a chance to get off the bench, are placed at more appropriate levels/schools, it can eliminate the obvious cases of players who were just recruited to take a “flyer” on a kid or simply because D1 coaches have 15 scholarships to use.

    Others (9-12 or 13) will still be fighting for minutes, which coaches need to improve their team, develop players, have depth for games and build a sense of competition at practice.

    There needs to be some student-athletes who don’t get minutes and accept their roles, but that can be minimized a little bit by reducing scholarships.

    In my opinion, there is a huge difference in 9-15 (7 scholarship players) not being happy versus 9-13 + 2 (5 scholarship players plus two walk-ons) not being happy.

    • Courtney Burns said:

      Coach I agree. There will always be players unhappy with playing time and we want kids to compete and want to play. In your article it talks a lot about the effects on div 1 and reducing the scholarships. How do you think an increase in div 2 scholarships would be effected? Do you think it would have a positive effect to increase the level of play? Or would an increase allow coaches to take chances as we say some coaches in div 1 may do and therefore effect it negatively? If they are too cut scholarships in div1 and we have this trickle down effect we will have more players playing at the div2 level with some already very talanted players. Thoughts on expanding the number of scholarships at the div2 level to account for those players who come down??

      • Bert DeSalvo said:

        No expansion for D2 scholarships. 10 is adequate. D2 is about balance. Model works but will just have more talent to spread around.

        That is really one of the GREAT outcomes of reducing D1 scholarships. It will SPREAD TALENT around to mid-majors and hopefully create more parody in WBB.

        If UConn wins it every year, will attendance/interest ever increase? Scholarship reductions may cause interest to increase due to more teams having a realistic chance at winning.

        Again, the goal is not to infringe on Title IX by reducing scholarships, but rather to make the student-athletes experiences for the players at the end of the bench more enjoyable. By being able to have more student-athletes compete at appropriate levels of play, this should also spread the talent pool to make the game more competitive.

        As long as those scholarship dollars are being used on females in other sports, so females are getting the same opportunities as other groups on campuses, I see it as a win-win situation.

    • Bert DeSalvo said:

      Coach, Thanks so much for your positive feedback! I’m glad you are supportive. How would this change your recruiting strategy/philosophy?

  7. Ron Sen, MD said:

    There are other issues in play including 1) ego (yeah, but I’m D1) and 2) fit. If athletics don’t work out because of ability, injury, circumstances, etc. did you love the college anyway? Or were you an athlete-student and then need to find the athletic fit because the college experience was secondary anyway?

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  9. Chris Wingett said:

    The real-life implications of this proposal are stark. It certainly seems that you’re advocating for hundreds of athletes who would have received full scholarships to D1 schools to no longer be afforded those opportunities. Just so the NCAA can put a better product on the floor and ostensibly drive a bigger profit while spending less money. The NCAA does operate like a corporation in that it surpresses labor to maximize profit and proposals like this (layoffs) support their corporate-like behavior that harms vulnerable student athletes. The NCAA should be spending more money on student-athletes, not less.