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Why Is The WNBA Basketball Smaller?

Why Is The WNBA Basketball Smaller?

In the game of basketball, generally, there is little variance between the differing leagues. That is, between the NBA, NCAA, FIBA, and WNBA, most of the rules and regulations of the games transfer over between one-another.

However, while most rules and regulations remain the same between the differing leagues, there are some noticeable and subtle changes. And while many of these rules don’t have a discernible affect on the overall play of the game, some do.

And, perhaps, the most important and significant change between the NBA and the WNBA is the size of the basketball used in regulation games. Below, we are going to discuss just why the WNBA basketball is smaller then the one used in the NBA and how this change affects the overall level of competition in the league.

In addition, we will look to see just whether or not the change in basketball size has led to a more competitive women’s basketball league and has produced a more equitable level of play on the basketball court.

What Size Basketball Is Used In The WNBA?

Again, the one major difference between the NBA and the WNBA is the size of the basketball used in regulation games. Whereas the NBA utilizes a size 7 basketball, which measures with a circumference of 75 centimeters, the WNBA utilizes a size 6 basketball, measuring at a circumference of 72.5 centimeters.

This difference in circumference, though small, has a major impact on the overall level of play. Noticeable in both look and feel, the women’s basketball is substantially smaller and provides an easier grip and level of control for the women’s league.

In addition, and rather tangentially, the women’s basketball is colored differently then the one used by the men’s league. Whereas the NBA utilizes an all-orange basketball, the WNBA utilizes a basketball that is multi-colored, with both orange and white surfaces.

This color difference, however, is purely aesthetic and does not have an affect on the overall level of play or capability of the basketball. Rather, the color difference is simply meant to more easily signify whether a basketball is meant to be used in a women’s or men’s league.

When Did The WNBA Adopt A Smaller Basketball Size?

Contrary to popular belief, the women’s basketball leagues did not always have smaller basketball sizes. Rather, in 1935, on the urging of multiple officials, it was suggested that the women’s basketball leagues be introduced to a smaller basketball.

However, although the recommendation on a smaller basketball was originally introduced in 1935, it wasn’t until 1978 when the smaller basketball size was introduced to the women’s basketball leagues.

The introduction of the smaller basketball size was generally well received, with players’ response to the smaller ball being extremely positive, and it was suggested that this basketball should be used in other competitions in the US.

And while FIBA, the international governing body for the sport, does not specify the size or the mass of the basketball, it would take the European women’s basketball leagues until the early 20th century to adopt the same change as the ones in the United States.

Why Does The WNBA Use A Smaller Basketball Then The NBA?

While the changes to the basketball size appear obvious, there was a concerted effort to push for the smaller size across all women’s basketball leagues. And while the original intent of doing so was good, there was more to the change then simple logistics.

Below, we are going to review some of the main reasons for the basketball size change between the women’s and men’s game.

  • As a means to assist with ball control – perhaps the main impetus and push for the change in basketball sizings, the original intent of introducing a smaller basketball size to the women’s game was to help women basketball players to better control and grip the basketball. Due to women’s smaller palms, as compared to their male counterparts, a smaller basketball was meant to better level the playing field between the two leagues.
  • As a means to allow for farther shooting – similarly, with the women’s basketball being both smaller in size and lighter in weight, the idea was that the women’s leagues would better perform from beyond the three-point line. In that men, typically, have more body and muscle mass, and are thus able to shoot from further away, a smaller, lighter basketball should assist the women basketball players to do the same.
  • As a means to make the women’s league more interesting – lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the introduction of a smaller, lighter basketball was meant to make the women’s basketball leagues more interesting. With the WNBA being a smaller market then the NBA, officials and proponents for the WNBA wished to make the game more appealing to a mass audience. By introducing a smaller, lighter basketball, these officials and proponents hoped to make the women’s game and league more interesting and enjoyable to fans watching at home.

Does The Smaller Basketball Increase Shooting Accuracy?

Contrary to popular belief, the smaller, lighter basketball utilized by the WNBA does not appear to have an increased correlation to shooting accuracy. And although there have not been much studies done on the affects of the smaller basketball, the most accurate one was completed by Nadja Podmenik, Bojan Leskošek, and Frane Erčulj in 2012.

Per their findings, the study show no substantial differences in terms of the percentage of two-point field goals when using the old and new basketballs, wherein the old basketballs were ones that were sized according to NBA specifications and new ones under those of the WNBA.

Rather, the only difference found in the study was that for guards, there appeared to be an increase in player confidence to attempt a three-point shot with the new smaller, lighter basketball. However, this increased confidence did not translate to better shooting accuracy.