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Intramural Coed Basketball Playing Rules Vary Greatly

Paul Steinbach

Suppose for a moment that you're a recreational basketball player at Gonzaga University - and a woman.

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HEIGHTENED AWARENESS Some schools modify traditional five-on-five basketball rules during coed competition to compensate for physical differences between the sexes. (Photos courtesy of Florida Southern College)

Suppose for a moment that you're a recreational basketball player at Gonzaga University - and a woman. Your two-point baskets made during coed intramural play will be worth just that: two points. Three-pointers? The name is on the money again: three points.

If you attend Dakota State and play coed hoops as a woman, your made shots from inside the three-point arc will be counted as three and from outside the arc as four. That's also true at the University of California, Irvine, where each free throw made by a woman is worth two points (except for technical foul shots, which are still worth one point). The University of Houston awards women three points for made shots from the field, regardless of where they are taken. Harvard University's Medical School doubles that to six points for any female's field goal attempt that goes in, even as Harvard undergrads - men and woman - go by traditional scoring in their own leagues.

AB reviewed the intramural five-on-five coed basketball rules at two-dozen colleges and universities, and found that while most use NCAA or NFHS rules as a starting point, plenty of latitude exists - in both offensive and defensive aspects of the game. And these battles of the comingled sexes on the court have been known to spawn fights for respect off it. "When I first came here, women's baskets were worth more than men's baskets, and I received a lot of grief for that from women, who were basically saying, 'Why should our baskets be worth more?' " says Scott Nalette, who arrived at Boston University in 2005 and manages its intramural and club sports. "I said, 'Okay, point taken.' We got rid of it, and I haven't heard any grief since."

Reatha Johnson, a graduate assistant who runs the intramural programs at Stetson University, heard the same rumblings among the women who recently approached her about launching coed basketball. "The people who brought it to our attention are really good athletes, for the most part, and they want to be able to play with the guys in a league. And they honestly didn't want us to make any variations to the rules," says Johnson, whose coed five-on-five league debuts this spring with a plus-one scoring system for women nonetheless. "We explained to them, 'Look, it will allow the guys to get you more involved in the game if they realize strategically the value of you taking shots versus them.' You could otherwise have a situation where the guys are going to ball-hog the entire game. This gives them the option at least to involve the females more often in the game."

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GIVE IT A SHOT Getting women involved in coed basketball, and by extension individual games, sometimes takes special incentive, but not always.

How many females are in the game to begin with is another variable that may separate one school's five-on-five rules from another's. Nalette and Johnson both adhere to the concept that at least two players of each gender must be on the court at any given time. At both the University of Oregon and American University, one half of the game must be played with three women and two men per team, while the opposite must be true of the game's other half. At no time does Georgia Tech allow a team's number of men on the floor to exceed its number of women, but the latter number can never exceed three, either.

A few schools, including Lewis-Clark State College, take the coed concept to its bare minimum - allowing teams to compete with a four-to-one gender ratio. Others, such as Michigan Tech, allow a team to play with just one representative of a certain gender, but only if the team has been reduced to fewer than five players due to injury or foul disqualification. Eastern Illinois University will allow a team to continue playing with fewer than four players, unless the reason for the attrition is player ejection.

St. Mary's University in Nova Scotia requires teams to field a minimum of two females, but will allow a team that has only one female present to compete, but with only four players on the court at all times. Same goes for Carleton University in Ontario.

The University of Arkansas requires teams to have at least two females and one male on the court at all times, and forces any team that falls to fewer than four available players to forfeit the game. The University of California, Berkeley, imposes an auto-loss, which is less punitive than a forfeit, on any team that fails to field the minimum of two women and one man. The University of Massachusetts allows a team to start a game with only three players, but only if two of them are women. Other schools will allow a team with only one member representing his or her gender to start a game - even if it's a four-to-one ratio - but only if both teams agree beforehand.

"We'll do that sometimes, because we don't want people to wait all week for a game and then not be able to play," says BU's Nalette. "My student supervisor may inquire of the other team, 'Hey, they only have one guy and four girls. Do you mind playing them straight up?' Some teams will say, 'That's fine,' and some teams will say, 'No thanks. We'll take the forfeit win. We'll still scrimmage them, but we want that win.' We try to be a little flexible because we understand that forfeits are something we're all fighting against across the nation."

At the same time, Nalette doesn't allow all-female teams to enter BU's coed division. "We don't want to imply that if you field a five-on-five team of all girls, there's no way you can be as good as a team that has to have men on it," he says. "We just try to keep rules as uniform as we can across the board, and we haven't received any negative feedback about it. And in our line of business, that's generally seen as a positive."

Many schools require women to take a coed game's opening tip-off, but what type of ball they actually jump for can represent another point of pregame negotiation. Typically, a women's ball (28.5 inches in circumference) is used, unless both teams agree to use a 29.5-inch men's ball. (Once a game starts, the size of the ball cannot be switched.) Exceptions exist. Gonzaga and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, for example, dictate that a men's ball be used in coed competition. Boston University uses a women's ball for its spring coed league, but a men's ball during a coed tournament staged in the fall.

Other rule variations are a bit less cut and dried, and their enforcement falls on game officials. At a number of schools, including Dakota State, men can block a woman's shot flatfooted. However, if they leave their feet in a shot-blocking attempt while guarding a woman, basket interference is the call and the points for a made shot are awarded to the shooter. Houston awards points for any women's shot that gets blocked by a man. Gonzaga allows for a man to block a woman's shot, but only if he has established a legal defensive position, his arms are straight up and the ball is shot into his arms. If his hands or arms move downward in the slightest manner, he will be called for a shooting foul.

At Florida State University, which offers separate divisions for unmodified and modified five-on-five coed basketball, men competing in the latter division can make no attempt to block a woman's shot. An attempt is defined as the male player having his arms extended at or above shoulder level or, in the official's opinion, the male is positioning himself in such a way as to disrupt the female player's shot (for example, leaning into the player). If a male makes contact with a female player's shot that appears as though it could have gone in the basket, the female player is awarded the corresponding points. FSU places no restrictions on women guarding men, and no restrictions on men guarding women in the open court (for example, attempting to disrupt a pass).

According to David Peters, FSU's director of intramural sports and sport clubs, roughly 60 percent of coed intramural basketball teams have chosen Division II and its modified rules during the past four years. "Our more highly competitive co-rec teams prefer a league with standard basketball rules and prepare themselves to compete in that format. They recruit players specifically to compete for a championship, whereas our recreational co-rec teams are often finding players simply to participate in the sport," Peters says. "They are often groups of friends from campus organizations or residence halls that are participating for the activity's social aspects. Because these teams have a wide range of talent levels, we offer them a more restricted game that mitigates some of the advantages inherent with the larger male basketball players. The rule variations also promote more active involvement by all players, which is a goal for our recreational leagues."

North Dakota State (not to be confused with Dakota State) mandates that team personnel ratios mirror each other, and only allows man-to-man and woman-to-woman defense. Dakota State prohibits women from being double-teamed, unless the double-team is executed by two women, and men are not allowed to drive the lane on a female defender. If a man drives around his male defender and a female comes over to help out, the ball-handler must drive around (not through) the female defender or stop his forward progress entirely. Brigham Young University prohibits men from guarding women, but allows women to guard either gender. (A male player is considered to be guarding a female if he is within six feet of her and trying to impede her play. However, a male may intercept a female's pass from six feet away.) Meanwhile, Bowling Green State University allows men and women to guard each other without restriction. So does Boston University.

Where men can go on the court and how they can get there is also outlined in the rules at several schools. At Brock University, Ontario Amateur Basketball Association rules are observed, with a few modifications - among them, men cannot initiate a jump for a shot or a rebound inside the key area; however, they can land inside the key if the jump was initiated outside of it.

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point places a five-second limit on men camping in the lane while on defense, the penalty being a team technical foul (two free throws and possession for the opposing team). At Cal, men are not allowed to enter the free-throw lane at all when on offense (and cannot cut across the baseline to get around the lane), and can only enter the lane in defensive situations when they are legally guarding (within arm's length of) an opposing male player. They can only rebound in the lane shots that fall directly to them or can be easily retrieved directly above their heads.

Think that's technical? BYU allows men to establish a "distracting position" against a female inside the lane only if the following criteria are met: he must be above the first row of boxes located outside the key, he must have established his position for at least two seconds before the female arrives, and he must remain stationary in his cylinder (meaning his arms must be in the plane of his body) while the female is within six feet of him. If a male player is whistled for guarding a female on a breakaway situation, he will be charged with a personal foul, the woman will be awarded two points and her team will retain possession of the ball. Moreover, a male defensive player cannot rebound the ball inside the lane. If he does so against an opposing male, the other team gains possession. If he does so over a female, the other team gains possession and the offending player is called for a personal foul. (Illegal offensive rebounds result in possession being awarded to the opposing team.)

It's enough to cause those wearing the black and white stripes to turn prematurely gray, but some schools see such rules as necessary in the interest of fairness - even when the so-called fairer sex didn't ask for them. Stetson's Johnson, whose own hopes of playing intercollegiate basketball were dashed due to a knee injury, intends to compete in the new coed league, where the plus-one scoring system was adopted, in part, as a means of boosting female intramural participation on a campus of only 3,000 students. "To us women, it's like, 'I really want to play, because I know you're going to use me. You can literally just put me in the post or set screens for me, and I can get you three points for a regular jump shot or a regular layup,' " Johnson says. "It will add another dynamic to the game. People will start to strategize and actually run plays, making it more of a legit league versus people just getting out there and doing whatever they want to do."

That said, another dynamic that Johnson sees emerging from coed sports in general is fun, and that, too, prompted the launching of the school's fourth coed league among its seven intramural sports that compete in seasons (as opposed to one-time tournaments). "A lot of people like to say the phrase 'intramurals are supposed to be fun.' From my experience at Stetson, when it comes to coed, I've seen more people having fun versus being overly competitive," she says. "At Stetson, we kind of look at things in a holistic way. We want to be able to provide programming for our students that will allow them to get regular exercise. I see coed as a time for people to come out, relax, have fun, hang out with their friends and whoever has the most points at the end of the game is the winner."

Match Games

Some sports lend themselves to the coed experience more so than others.

At Boston University, a coed division is offered in all 16 intramural sports leagues but one - three-on-three basketball. For another sport - broomball - coed is the only option available. In both cases, keeping male competitiveness in check is the goal.

"For three-on-three basketball, just because there are so few people on the floor, the most you could really mandate is one female on each team," says Scott Nalette, BU's manager of intramural and club sports. "And what might tend to happen then is that it just becomes very male-dominated, to the point where teams might enter a coed league just to have another pseudo men's team to play on."

Historically, men's ice hockey has been the most competitive intercollegiate sport at BU, but that same Terrier tenacity isn't necessarily encouraged in coed broomball. "It's a game that should have a jovial feel," Nalette says. "You run around on ice like clowns. People are falling. So we mandated it be coed. It keeps the sportsmanship and intensity level where we want it. We don't have seven guys versus seven guys killing each other out there. For an already relatively dangerous sport, the coed mix keeps it fun."

Nowhere is the coed mix more prevalent at BU than in intramural volleyball, a sport fed nationwide by a talent pool that skews toward women based on high school varsity participation rates. "We see some phenomenal women's volleyball players - freakishly scary-good volleyball players," Nalette says. "A lot of the women have a lot more experience than the guys."

With teams featuring three men and three women to a side, coed volleyball is by far the most popular of that sport's three divisions at BU. "We might have five or six men's teams, five or six women's teams, and 40 coed teams," Nalette says. "It's just an opportunity for people to bring their friends, guys or girls, and participate in something, and volleyball is a good one because you're not coming in contact with the other players. It's your side of the net, it's their side of net, and it's the best team wins. It's not who's the most physical. It's very skills-based."

Other coed sports lend themselves to a leveling of the playing field, perhaps none more so than flag football. On most campuses nationwide, touchdowns scored by women carry more points than those scored by men. "So you'll see men get right up to the goal line, wait for a woman to come, lateral it to her, and score more points. Good teams take advantage of the rules," says Nalette, whose 7,500 non-unique intramural participation number favors men by a 70-30 ratio. "I don't think certain coed rules were made because anybody felt women were inferior. It was just simply to try to have men not dominate contests intentionally and realize that having to include females in their game plan would be an advantage to them."
- P.S.

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