Title Nine of the 1971 Civil Rights Act requires universities to spend money on athletics in proportion to their enrollment of male and female students*. Administrators have to optimize along several margins, one of which is fielding a competitive enough football program for men to preserve the illusion of financial fitness for the sports enterprise. Thus, the number of basketball scholarships is twelve for men's teams, and fifteen for women's teams. Cue the Law of Unintended Consequences.
[Big Sky conference commissioner Don] Fullerton said one factor that has the potential to "ruin" the NCAA tournament as we know it is squad size. Men's basketball teams in Division I can have 13 scholarship players; women's teams have 15. Because the top women's teams can stockpile more of the game's top talent, there is less parity. That's evident year after year in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament; this year the average margin of victory was 19.2 points.

"All you have to do is look at the women's tournament," Fullerton said. "I could pick who's going to be eliminated and who's going to make the round of 32 and round of 16. You can already see, quite frankly, a declining interest in the women's basketball tournament because of that. We have a petri dish to look at – what just two or three scholarships will do to you."
The validity of Mr Fullerton's statement depends on the supply elasticity of basketball players. Yes, the teams that get to the elite eight have enough reserves on scholarship to complete yet another team, but those players also have to calculate their chances of getting any playing time on the elite teams, and the coaches of the other teams use the promise of starting minutes as a recruiting incentive. But additional scholarships call forth more effort, and also-ran teams can benefit from a larger pool of high-performing players.
Fullerton said squad size warranted "a very pointed discussion. That's one of the bright lines." Gavitt, the man tasked with running the NCAA tournament, agreed that if it were ever increased, it would [further] affect the tournament's parity.

"Where the line gets much more difficult is if we ever get to a point where squad sizes and scholarship limits change," he said. "If that were to ever come to pass. Now, (for example), that the major schools can have a 20-player team, those extra eight kids who would otherwise be at mid-major, low-major programs, are now kind of pining away on the bench at a major program. That would have the potential to upset the competitive balance."
Again, though, that presupposes the inducement of additional scholarships to be a reserve at Connecticut dominates the opportunity to get playing minutes at Duke or Stanford.

Perhaps, though, it is the propensity of women's teams to develop senior leadership that perpetuates Them that Has, Gets.
This was the fourth straight Final Four appearance for Notre Dame, the seventh straight for Connecticut.

It would not be a surprise to find both teams back in the Final Four next year, even if both lose two key players:  [Kayla] McBride and Natalie Achonwa of the Irish, [Stefanie] Dolson and Bria Hartley of the Huskies.  In the past five years, both have had a stockpile of talent.

“You know which teams are going to win pretty much all the time,” Auriemma said.  “There’s a reason for that.  All our players stay pretty much four years.”
That, dear reader, is a gibe by Mr Auriemma at the d-league model that has taken over the men's tournament.

*Yeah, we can call out the Defenders of Civil Rights for their cis-sexism, but one windmill at a time.

No comments: