Duquesne's new coach, Burt, hopes for more changes

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When the Duquesne women's basketball team walked into their team lounge earlier this offseason, they had a new piece of reading material waiting for them.

Dukes coach Dan Burt had set out four copies of the "white paper" compiled by former WNBA president Val Ackerman, highlighting potential changes that could help improve the sport of women's college basketball.

"I want the kids to understand that they have a responsibility to help grow this game," Burt said.

Ackerman, who since has been named the commissioner of the new Big East Conference, took more than six months to compile the paper and interview more than 100 people associated with women's college basketball. She spoke with ACC coaches, including Pitt's new coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, at the league's spring meetings in May.

Released last month, it specifically deals with ways to improve the women's NCAA tournament and increase scoring, which has dipped in recent years.

One of Ackerman's suggestions, which seems to have gained traction among coaches, is moving first- and second-round tournament games to the home site of the higher seed.

In 2010, the most recent year the Petersen Events Center played host to the first two rounds of the tournament, Pitt did not qualify. The three games, which featured Ohio State, Mississippi State, Middle Tennessee State and Saint Francis, drew an average of 4,561 fans per game.

"There's a struggle to put people in the seats," McConnell-Serio said. "I think when you look at the higher seeds hosting first and second rounds, you have to believe that's a good idea because, obviously, when you watch these games on TV, you want to see people in the stands and you want fans to come watch the games.

"When you watch it, it seems more like the true NCAA tournament when you're playing on neutral sites than potentially playing on the team's home floor. But I think you do what's best for the game."

Ackerman also suggested changes on the back end of the tournament at the Final Four. Among other things, she advocated exploring a return to having the semifinals Friday night and the championship Sunday, as opposed to the current Sunday-Tuesday format.

Burt said he would support such a change and also said that the NCAA should carefully consider the cities it awards future Final Fours.

"When you go to New Orleans like we did this past year, and they're still suffering a Super Bowl hangover, they don't really have much of a care for women's basketball," Burt said.

"Whereas Nashville has really embraced this upcoming Final Four."

The white paper also addressed some in-game concerns, namely increasing scoring. According to Ackerman's research, NCAA teams shot 38.9 percent on field-goal attempts and 30.6 percent on 3-point attempts, both all-time lows.

"I think it makes it less fan-friendly to watch," Burt said.

One rule that will take effect this season is the implementation of a 10-second violation for teams advancing the ball out of the backcourt, mirroring the rule in place in men's college basketball.

"I think you're going to be forced into playing a faster-paced game because teams will be able to press more to disrupt," said McConnell-Serio, who ran a press-heavy defense in her six-year tenure as Duquesne's head coach.

Ackerman also suggested that a committee be formed to study rules that might need to be tweaked to increase scoring. Burt said he was optimistic, but would reserve judgment until he saw how games are called this season.

"I'm hoping some of the changes to be implemented will really include enforcing rules with hand-checking and the way that we play," he said.

"We'll see if that actually happens."

Burt also said he wouldn't be opposed to a potential switch to a 24-second shot clock to help speed up offense. The 30-second shot clock is used now.

In a big-picture sense, Ackerman also addressed how the sport can grow.

"Overall, there was a very strong feeling among the people I spoke with that the game needs a sense of energy and urgency," Ackerman said in the report.

Burt agreed.

"These last four or five years, we have certainly plateaued and maybe even dipped in terms of our coverage on a national basis, television-wise, the excitement of women's basketball, the chatter that you hear out in the public," he said.

"How do we get that back? We have to differentiate ourself."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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