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Oct. 29, 2015

When the Virginia women’s basketball team hosts Norfolk State on Monday, Nov. 16 in its 2015-16 home opener, Cavalier fans will get their first glimpse at the most sweeping changes the sport of women’s basketball has enacted in the last 40 years.

The biggest change to the game will be its structure. Gone will be two 20-minute halves, replaced by four 10-minute quarters. Within that change will come several other changes. There will be one media timeout per quarter, set for the first dead ball stoppage at the under five-minute mark. However, the first team-called timeout of each quarter will also be stretched into a media timeout.

Each team will be allowed four fouls per quarter before going to the bonus, with the team shooting two free throws on the fifth foul. There will no longer be one-and-ones, the team automatically goes to shooting two on the fifth foul. Fouls will reset at the end of each period.

If a player fouls out of the game, the time limit to replace a disqualified player has been reduced to 15 seconds. If the head coach fails to replace the disqualified player before the second horn, the head coach is assessed a bench technical foul.

There are two rule changes in regard to called timeouts. Each team will have three 30-second timeouts and a ‘full’ 60-second timeout with three carrying over into the second half, which is one fewer team timeout than before. Additionally, in the final 59.9 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime periods, a team with possession has the option to call a timeout and advance the ball to the 28-foot mark in the frontcourt.

Another change geared toward generating more energy and excitement in the stands is that music, either from the sound system or the band, is allowed to be played during every dead ball.

“The rule changes have been made to create a more exciting game,” said Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle. “The rules are structured to make play a little bit faster. There will be less stoppage of play. When you have a quarter system, it makes for more exciting plays because you have last minute situations at the end of each quarter. The ability to advance the ball in the final 60 seconds means there will be more buzzer-beater games. I am really excited to see these new rules in action.”

Richmond head coach Michael Shafer, the chairman of the NCAA women’s basketball rules committee, said in an interview this summer with the Richmond-Times Dispatch that the intent of the rule changes is to energize the sport.

“What we were trying to do was create a smoother, more enjoyable, more free-flowing game that more closely resembles women’s basketball on the international level,” Shafer said.

In addition to FIBA international contests, WNBA games also have the four-quarter structure.

Boyle has been working with her team to get them ready for the rigors of playing within this new system.

“We are a much better conditioned team this year,” Boyle said. “We actually changed the things we were doing in the spring. With the way the media timeouts fall, you might have to play a lot longer. Before, you knew the breaks were coming every four minutes. Now, it might be five. It might be longer if someone calls an early timeout. Being a better- conditioned team with depth is going to help.”

The rules of basketball have evolved over the years since James Naismith’s original publication on January 15, 1892 of the policies for his game of “Basket Ball”. Since then, only the 13th and final rule, “The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner” remains unchanged.

In Naismith’s original game, there was no dribbling, dunking, three-pointers, or shot clock and goal tending was legal. Dribbling was introduced in 1901. At the time, a player could only bounce the ball once and could not shoot after dribbling. Unlimited dribbling became an official rule in 1966. In 1918, a basket with open bottom instead of closed basket with pull chain became official. In 1932, all field goals began to count as two points. Coaching was originally prohibited during the game, but from 1949 on, coaches were allowed to address players during a time-out and coaching from the sideline was finally permitted in 1968.

This year’s rules changes are some of the biggest changes to the sport of women’s basketball since 1971 when the 30-second shot clock became official and the full court, five-player game was instituted. Some other modifications since then included the change in the ball circumference in 1984 (the balls being reduced to 28.5 inches, also known as a ‘Size 6′). In 1987, the three-point line of 19 feet, nine inches was introduced and then moved back to 20 feet, nine inches in 2011. Two years ago, the 10-second backcourt violation was added.

The game will continue to grow and change. New experimental rules will be tried out in a preseason UConn scrimmage against Vanguard on November 8, including the use of a three-point line at international distance (22 feet, one inch), a 24-second shot clock, an eight-second backcourt violation and the use of the larger ball (29.5 inches). Statistics from the game, as well as regular season games for both teams, will be compared and submitted to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee for analysis and evaluation after the upcoming season as the sport continues its evolution.

One thing, however, will never change. “The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner.”

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