Summer workouts an advantage for most women’s teams

Suzie McConnell-Serio was excited to get a jump on the season.

The new Pittsburgh women’s basketball coach doesn’t have to wait until the fall to get a chance to work with her team. Because of a new NCAA rule, coaches are allowed to work out with their players for eight hours per week — including two on the court — if the athletes are enrolled in summer school or have met certain academic benchmarks.

The men adopted the rule last summer. In the past, players could only work out in the summer with coaches if the team was taking a foreign trip.

“Being a new coach with a new program, it’s an incredible opportunity to get on the court and work so closely with your players,” said McConnell-Serio, who coached at Duquesne last season and was hired at Pitt after spring workouts ended. “You’re starting to develop that relationship you wouldn’t get if you didn’t spend this time with them on the court. You’re getting to know them before practice and after practice. Learn about their work ethic in the weight room. It’s really for me been beneficial on and off the floor.”

One hope of the new summer workouts is to improve players’ skills. In a report Val Ackerman submitted to the NCAA last week, the first WNBA president and new Big East commissioner noted how scoring was down to an all-time low 62.1 points last season. That’s nearly eight points lower than the first year of NCAA women’s play in 1981-82.

“I’m happy they added it,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Our game needs it, and our players need it.”

The new rule also has allowed incoming freshmen a chance to work with their new coaches.

“I’ve heard very positive things especially for new coaches,” WBCA Chief Executive Officer Beth Bass said. “It also helps freshmen not get shellshocked like deer in headlights when the season starts.”

Not everyone has been able to take advantage of the new rule, and sometimes they don’t mind.

The Ivy League doesn’t allow its schools to have any summer workouts — regardless of whether the athletes are in summer school or not. That’s just fine with Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, whose team has won the past four league championships.

While the Ivy League has an across-the-board policy of not allowing summer workouts, other conferences like the Patriot League are trickier. Colgate doesn’t have summer school, so the athletes would have to pay their own way to stay on campus. Army and Navy have very limited time to train because of military commitments over the summer, and those activities don’t count as summer school, so they, too, would have to pick up the financial costs. It creates an uneven situation in that conference.

“It blows me away,” Army coach Dave Maggarity said. “For so long, everything was cost containment and it was a level playing field. Now it’s all bets are off, the wild west again — do anything you want to do.”

Maggarity has gotten a little time to work with some of his players, but getting the whole team together has been virtually impossible. The plus for Army is that school starts the second week of August so conditioning can start early.

The potential eight weeks of workouts in the summer adds to an already long season. This past year, the first game was played Nov. 9, and the NCAA
title game was exactly six months later. That doesn’t even include the month before the season when teams start practice. Now basketball has become an eight-month season.

“As a coach, you think about burnout,” McConnell-Serio said. “We stagger our workouts and give them time off. They get all of August off. When they come into school, we give them the first week of school off. They have a month to recover from all of it.”