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Male practice players help women's teams

When proposing legislation that's meant to protect opportunities, it might behoove the NCAA to actually talk to the group of individuals it is allegedly helping.
Clearly, the NCAA did not talk to any actual women's basketball coaches or players when deciding to present legislation eliminating the use of male practice players. If it did, it would be hard pressed to find one coach or one player, who would support the ban.

In case you missed it, here's the recap: The NCAA's Committee on Women's Athletics (CWA) has proposed legislation at next week's annual NCAA Convention to severely limit the use of male practice players in women's basketball at the Division III level.
The intent is then to have Division II and Division I follow with total bans on the practice.
Who exactly are male practice players and what do they do? They are college students already on campus who usually have played high school basketball but aren't on a varsity sports team. They are recruited by the women's coaches specifically to fit their needs.
For the most part, male practice players serve as the scout team. They learn and run the opposing team's plays on offense and defense, so that the women's team can practice against them.
This, the NCAA says, is a violation of Title IX. Using male practice players, the anonymous CWA said in a statement, takes away opportunities from female players.
"Any inclusion of male practice players results in diminished participation opportunities for female student-athletes, contrary to the association's principles of gender equity, nondiscrimination, competitive equity and student-athlete well-being," the group said in a written statement.
But just try to find a coach or a player who agrees with that.
In the Big 4, Linda Hill-MacDonald at the University at Buffalo and Jim Crowley at St. Bonaventure use male practice players. At the Division III level, Pete Lonergan at Medaille uses male players as scrimmage fodder for his team, particularly in the preseason -- and his team has become a model for success for D-3 schools in Western New York.
The rationale for using male players is simple -- they help to simulate size and allow all players on the roster, from starters to bench warmers, to practice for actual game situations.
"It's definitely helpful to our women," Hill-MacDonald said. "I can have an assistant coach over on the sideline teaching [the men] the opponent's offenses instead of taking part of our team and having them miss the skill work that we need them doing.
"The other benefit with the men that we have is that we can simulate some of the size that we're going to play against. Our size is our size . . . but with the men we have two sizable post players and we can't duplicate that in our squad. That's helpful with training Heather [Turner] and Barb [Homolova] to play against bigger players."
For sure, if there were athletic, basketball-minded, 6-3 women roaming around UB's campus, they'd already be on a basketball scholarship.
Oh, and those male practice players for UB were brought to Hill-MacDonald's attention by junior guard Stephanie Bennett who spent the summer playing pick up ball with them.
Even coaches who don't normally use male practice have no problems with teams who do. Terry Zeh at Canisius had some guys help out at a few practices two years ago but hasn't used them since.
"I don't use them often, but I'm open to it," Zeh said. "I think it's fine. I think it should be up to the individual coach and if they're used properly [male practice players] aren't taking away opportunities from women, they're making your players better."
There's another overlooked factor in using male practice players -- the greater benefit of growing respect for the game of women's basketball. columnist Mechelle Voepel wrote about the topic, blasting the NCAA for proposing the legislation, and heard back from boatloads of current and former male practice players who learned to check their egos at the door and walked away with a better appreciation of women's athletics.

"I kid our guys all the time that they have to come to our games and bring two or three friends," Crowley said. "The more that they get involved and see the quality that's there, the more people will take women's basketball seriously. Obviously, women's sports have come a long way, but still the driving force is how other people view it. The more people who view it as competitive, the better it becomes overall for everyone."


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