Weekly Wrap-Up with Dick Rockne

Jan. 2, 2007

By Dick Rockne

In the 30-plus-years of conflict that has raged over equal athletic opportunity for college women a case can be made that males never have enjoyed so much support from females as they have lately.

The issue generating such passion concerns whether women's college basketball teams should continue to compete against male players during practices, something they have done for more than 20 years at least.

The NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics has proposed that the use of male practice players violates the spirit of gender equity and Title IX because it deprives non-starters the court time they need to improve themselves. Because of that, according to the committee, male practice players should be banned.

Coaches, including most of those in the Pac-10 Conference, couldn't be more emphatic in opposing the CWA's stand, although some wouldn't object to having some controls adopted.

'I challenge anybody to give me one good reason why we should not be allowed to use male practice players because I cannot think of one,'' Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne said.

'When our players heard they might take this away they were devastated,'' Arizona's Joan Bonvicini said. 'They could not understand why anyone would want to do that.'

Oregon's Bev Smith said male practice players provide 'an important part of our development' and was something that didn't exist when she was a player in the early 1980s.

'But we'd go into `ratball' gyms and play against them (males) because we knew it was the best thing for us in terms of our development,'' Smith said. 'It's just hard to simulate that kind of pressure and aggressiveness. I think we grow from it. We want to grow our game and I think it's an appropriate way to do it.'

Washington's June Daugherty thinks 'our practice guys' are responsible for the Huskies being as aggressive as they have been in winning eight straight games, including their first four in the Pac-10.

'We practice every day with those guys and they are awesome,'' Daugherty said. 'They make us compete. They're taller. They're stronger. They're faster. And every day that we have to compete against that I know it helps us. It gets our energy up. It gets our confidence up.'

She said not allowing male practice squads would set women's basketball back.

'We need to compete against bigger, stronger, faster if we want to continue to improve this game,'' Daugherty said. 'I think we owe it to our student athletes to put them in situations where they can become their absolute best. Our practice players help us achieve that.'

Because UW senior Maggie O'Hara is in her fourth year of playing as a reserve she could be someone the CWA could point to and say Washington's use of male practice players has deprived her of court time and a chance to improve.

O'Hara doesn't feel deprived.

'They only make us better,' O'Hara said of the males.

Because the UW's males serve as the scout squad all the Husky women are free to concentrate on their own team's game plan and do not have to be concerned about representing rivals traits, O'Hara said. Starters or reserves, practice repetitions are evenly administered, she added.

Male practice players - Washington has a stable of about nine -- get nothing tangible in return for their contributions. The intangibles, however, can mean a lot.

UW junior Danny Finan is enjoying the opportunity associated with being a Husky practice player for several reasons, including the 'team atmosphere and all the fun that goes with it' that he couldn't experience in high school at Seattle Prep because of a chronic back ailment.

'It's like I'm part of the team,' Finan said. 'And when they (Huskies) win I have a sense of accomplishment.'

He said he likes it when only five or six practice players are able to show up.

'That means I'll get more playing time.'

How much longer Finan will get any playing time remains to be seen. The NCAA's Championships/Competition Cabinet is expected to take up the subject in February, after questionnaires from each NCAA-member school are evaluated. It is believed that by July 15 a proposal could be crafted and, if it is supported, could be implemented in August, 2008.

Non-scholarship Division III schools are scheduled to vote on restricting the use of male practice players at the NCAA convention this month.

Some Pac-10 coaches, including Bonvicini, Washington State's Sherri Murrell and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer, would support some controls being placed on the deployment of the male players.

'I think we're going to have to self regulate or do something otherwise it's going to be taken away,'' Bonvicini said.

She said the number of male practice players could be limited to the number of a team's female players who are injured.

'Right now we have 15 players on scholarship but we're down four from injuries so we would be allowed to have four practice players.'

Murrell said she thinks a formula involving hour and/or day limitations on the use of male players 'would be the best.'

VanDerveer said that 'in some situations' the use of male practice players has been abused and 'is an issue that should be looked at and there should be some guidelines.

'I think there are certain situations were five, or six or seven guys come in every day and women's participation (in practices) is limited. It's a situation where women are not getting their reps on the court.'

VanDerveer said Stanford is 'limited' in its use of male players.

'On this year's team we have had one practice player who comes every day and another who comes every other day,'' VanDerveer said. 'We have a squad that we have played against on very limited occasions. We don't have a squad that comes in every day and plays every single day.'

She said her top seven players:might benefit from playing against guys who are bigger and stronger and quicker.

'But I think it would be very detrimental to the morale of our team and is not in the best interest of women's basketball.

'I think it's the overuse of male players that's the problem and not the use.'

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