Coaches leery of proposed scholarship cuts

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Beth Bass, executive director of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, said 700 scholarships could fall into the abyss.

How many players does it take to make a women's college basketball team?

Fifteen. For now.

Women's basketball coaches around the country have been watching with concern the past few months after a committee recommended to the NCAA that the number of women's basketball scholarships drop from 15 to 13.

The recommendation was part of a larger proposal that included reducing Division I football and men's basketball scholarships as well. The measure was viewed as both cost-saving and a potential contributor to improved parity.

But the NCAA Division I Board of Directors rejected the proposal at last week's NCAA annual convention in Indianapolis by a narrow 8-7 vote.

The proposal may not be dead yet, however.

The board referred the recommendation to the Collegiate Model: Rules Working Group for further study, and it could well come back to the NCAA Division I presidents in the spring for another vote.

Beth Bass, the executive director of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, said the WBCA membership was relieved by the board's decision.

"I think we understand it could possibly help parity," Bass said. "Cutting the number back to 13 might send other athletes to mid-majors or to programs in other divisions. But we have fought so hard for opportunities for women. We don't want to lose them.

"If you cut those two scholarships at every school, that's 700 scholarships that go into the abyss."

Bass said the WBCA recommended a compromise in which the scholarships would be cut from women's basketball but remain available to other women's athletic teams. But such a compromise can't be enforced because colleges have institutional control, and such a measure could not be implemented.

So the WBCA stood in opposition to the recommendation.

Because of the propensity for serious injuries, many coaches want to keep their rosters as large as possible, even if some don't fill 15 spots. Some coaches use an extra scholarship or two to help players on the existing roster to attend summer school, which is not covered under a standard scholarship.

"Looking at women's basketball as a whole, I don't think we ever want to be taking away opportunities," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "I'm pleased they didn't do it, because of the opportunities and the nature of injuries for our game.

"I know there are budgetary issues and parity, but honestly, I'm happy to see it didn't go."

Bass acknowledged that injuries -- particularly knee injuries, which can quickly end a player's season -- can trump the desire for parity.

"People have to be able to compete," Bass said. "We are in January and February, and we are seeing a lot of injuries."

Five on the marquee

1. Iowa State. The Cyclones haven't had the easiest season. Bill Fennelly was diagnosed with cancer on his vocal cords and has been undergoing treatment while continuing to coach. And then ISU hit a skid with a five-game losing streak, the longest of Fennelly's 17-year tenure. But it ended Sunday with a 66-49 win over suddenly struggling Texas Tech.

2. Chiney Ogwumike. The little sister in the Cardinal's dynamic sibling duo has earned her second straight Pac-12 Player of the Week award after helping Stanford to decisive wins over Washington State and Washington. She averaged 17 points and 11.5 rebounds and shot 68.4 percent from the field.

3. Penn State. Wearing black armbands as a salute of former football coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions beat Iowa 68-52 on Sunday. They won despite shooting 34 percent from the field. Sophomore Ariel Edwards had her first career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

4. Tennessee. The Lady Vols must regroup after Monday night's loss at Notre Dame in which they scored a school-record low 44 points. This is a team with talent, no doubt. But is it fair to ask whether the Vols are struggling under the weight of Pat Summitt's diagnosis? Or is this simply about basketball? The Vols are coping with injuries and finding themselves dependent on defense and rebounding. They simply are not good enough offensively to keep up with the nation's top teams.

5. Destini Hughes, LSU. The Lady Tigers paid a heavy price in their loss at Tennessee last Thursday. Hughes, the team's starting point guard, was lost for the season with an injury that includes torn ligaments and a torn meniscus in her right knee. Hughes had started all 18 games for LSU and was the team's second-leading scorer in conference play at 10.7 points a game.

Five names you should know but probably don't

1. Aaryn Ellenberg, Oklahoma. The Sooners' sophomore guard propelled her surging team to big wins over Texas and Kansas State last week. She had 31 points and a career-high nine assists in the win over the Wildcats. She has 145 3-pointers in 52 games and is fifth on the Oklahoma record list. The Sooners have won nine of their last 11 and will host No. 1 Baylor Thursday.

2. Jasmine Crew, Seton Hall. The No. 2 scorer in the Big East isn't from Connecticut or Notre Dame or even DePaul. It's the Pirates' senior guard, who is averaging 19.2 points a game and has been her team's leading scorer in 16 of 20 games thus far. Her success is bittersweet, however, because her team is still looking for its first Big East win.

3. BYU. The Lions are in the AP poll for the first time since 2006 this week after starting 18-3. They are in first in the West Coast Conference -- which they joined this season -- with a 7-1 record, one half-game ahead of Gonzaga. BYU's inclusion in the poll gives the WCC two teams in the national rankings for the first time.

4. UNLV. The Running Rebels, coached by former UCLA coach and UNLV alum Kathy Olivier, are a big factor in the Mountain West Conference race. UNLV is 15-5 and 3-1 in conference play, the only loss to first-place San Diego State, which has won 10 in a row. The 15 wins are the most for the program since 2005-06, when the Rebels won 18 games.

5. Kamilah Jackson, Hawaii. Jackson's surging play has helped the Rainbow Wahines to a 3-1 record in the Western Athletic Conference, the program's best conference start since 2003. She scored 16 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in a 61-46 win over Louisiana Tech, just the fourth win for Hawaii in 28 games in the series against the Lady Techsters. She followed up with 16 points and 11 rebounds against New Mexico State. Jackson has 10 double-doubles this season.

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