CWA Questions Male Practice Players

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.6, August 2005,

Go to many top-level college women’s basketball practices and you won’t see just women sweating in drills and scrimmages. Male players will be there too, challenging the women’s team as stand-ins for upcoming opponents who may be taller, stronger, and faster than any females on the intercollegiate squad. Male practice squads are allowed under NCAA rules in all sports, and are common in basketball. But the issues they raise are coming under scrutiny in the NCAA.

The association-wide Committee on Women’s Athletics (CWA) has a subcommittee researching the matter, and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) is asking its members for their views. There doesn’t seem to be a groundswell for eliminating male practice players, and the issue was raised in part by proponents seeking clarity and perhaps a loosening of rules regarding male squads. But the issue is being raised in the context of gender equity just as the women’s game is becoming higher-profile than ever.

Among those raising concerns is CWA Vice-Chair Janet Kittell, Associate Director of Athletics at Syracuse University. According to Kittell, male squads are reducing chances for female athletes to improve. “If you’re the sixth, seventh, or eighth woman on the squad you are not getting the same amount of practice time when you have a team of men practicing against your first string,” says Kittell.

Many other coaches don’t see male squads as competition for participation, particularly if used to simulate game conditions. “At times we’ll break it down into guys versus girls, and run it just like a traditional game,” says Toriano Towns, Assistant Coach for women’s basketball at the University of Arizona. “Everyone gets opportunities to be subbed, and we go through all our rotations. We use the guys’ team to simulate the plays that our opponent is going to run, and the guys’ team is prepared all week exclusively for that. They are able to do things that other players on our team can’t do.”

NCAA policy, clarified through numerous rules interpretations, states that males who regularly practice with women’s teams must meet the eligibility standards for intercollegiate student-athletes. Furthermore, they must not be receiving athletics-related financial aid from the institution or any other compensation from the athletic department, including payment for serving as a student manager. Because they aren’t eligible for competition, they aren’t allowed to travel with the team.

The NCAA also requires that male practice players go through the initial-eligibility clearinghouse, a process that can create additional obstacles for male students who want to help, says Towns. It’s especially difficult for upperclassmen who may not have easy access to the high school transcripts the clearinghouse needs.

“For the purpose they serve, it seems a little extreme to have them go through these rigors,” Towns says. “What often happens is a male player says, ‘My buddy did this last year, and I’d love to do it.’ But now he’s got to wait weeks, sometimes months, before he’s able to gather the necessary paperwork to send off to the clearinghouse. By then, he’s moved on to other things.”

The WBCA hasn’t taken an official position and won’t until it gets results of a survey containing a question on the matter, says Shannon Reynolds, the group’s Chief Operating Officer. But anecdotally, coaches seem overwhelmingly against outlawing Y chromosomes on the women’s practice court, she says.

“It’s a widely used practice, and the coaches we’ve spoken to at our own convention say it helps the game grow and improve,” Reynolds says. “Women are getting bigger, and you’ve got to find bigger and stronger people for them to practice against.”