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What is the Origin of the Women's Size Basketball?

February 12, 2020

 Gonzaga Women's Basketball Team - 1985

Gonzaga Women's Basketball Team, 1986-87

It was the early 80’s, and the popularity of women’s basketball was on the rise. With women now competing at a high level, one question remained: should women continue using the men’s size ball or move to a ball size more suited to them? Michael Schindler, now CEO of Baden Sports, found himself at the center of this historic decision in women’s basketball history. 

We sat down with Michael at Baden HQ in Renton, Washington and learned how Baden Sports played an integral part in creating the women’s basketball. 

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How did Baden get involved in women’s basketball?

Back in the early 80’s I was introduced to Betty Jaynes by George and Austin Lehman, who Baden had sponsored to travel the country putting on basketball clinics. Betty Jaynes was a former women’s basketball coach who had retired from coaching, was integral to the formation of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, and became its first Executive Director.


Why did her name come up?

Well, it was 1982 and George said, “I was talking to Betty Jaynes and she said she was doing a study at Long Beach State on the use of a downsized basketball for the women’s game.” George said, “You should get ahold of her, I think this could be interesting.” So I called Betty up, and we hit it off. We were both basketball fans and we became friends. She told me about what they were doing and with Baden’s growing reputation as a premier ball-maker, she was interested in working together.

 

MSU Women's Basketball

 


 

And what were they doing exactly?

They were testing an intermediate sized ball, which had a 28” circumference (28.5-29” is the women’s size now). Betty told me that she thought it was too small, too light. She asked Baden to see what we could come up with that would be better suited for the women’s game. Taking our knowledge of the game and ball manufacturing, we set about experimenting with different size and weight combinations, going as far as creating early prototypes of different variations This was a big step for us at the time as it required the creation of expensive molds. Ultimately, we landed on a ball that was 1” smaller and 2 ounces lighter than the men’s ball for them to test. 


Why a smaller size ball?

Why would women, who are on average smaller than male basketball players, use the same size ball? It needed to be downsized. I was a fan of women’s basketball and consequently a big proponent of going smaller. It increased the shooting range, women could pass more quickly - it made it a faster game.


What happened with the ball Baden developed?

At the end of the 1983/84 basketball season, in April 1984, the National Girls and Women in Sports Rules Committee had their annual meeting in Washington D.C. There was a lot of debate around switching to a smaller ball. After the meeting, Betty called me and said, “It’s official. The new women’s size ball will be the one Baden developed, and it’s taking effect for all colleges this coming basketball season.” I couldn’t believe it. 


So the new women’s ball size was officially changed.

Yes, at the end of April with only 5-6 months before the start of the 1984/85 season! To get balls into the hands of all women’s basketball college programs was going to be a challenge but, at the same time, a tremendous opportunity for Baden. That’s a lot of market to supply so quickly.


How did you get women’s teams balls on time?

After Betty’s call, I immediately went into my dad’s office (E.C. Schindler, Founder of Baden), and we called a meeting to discuss our strategy. We mobilized as many people in the office as possible, even people who had never sold before. Starting at 5 the very next morning, we called every collegiate women’s basketball program in the country. There were about 1500 programs at the time, and we eventually talked to about 1100 of the coaches directly. It was incredible!

Women's Basketball Orders at Baden Sports
Seattle Times article on new women's basketball size, May 1984

What did this do for Baden in Women’s Basketball and the sport in general?

Not a single college was using the Baden ball in the 1983/84 season. By 1984/85, the first season with the smaller ball, we had more than 70% of colleges using our ball! This might be the single biggest turning point in the company’s history - it put us on the map. It was an exciting moment to be part of - a pivotal shift in women’s basketball. Within the next 3 years, all high schools followed the colleges and voted to adopt the women’s size basketball as well.


Why do you think Baden took such a big role in women’s basketball so quickly?

At the time we got involved, people weren’t paying much attention to women’s Women's Basketball Playerbasketball. But for us, we were focused on it. While women’s basketball was an afterthought for our big competitors, it became a priority for us.


And what did you like about women’s basketball?

Really, it was as simple as just loving basketball. It didn’t matter if it was high level women’s or high level men’s basketball; I always loved to play it and I appreciated the skill it took to play it. And once we started to work with all these women’s basketball coaches, I felt personally tied to each team and coach. It was fun to watch.


Any relationships with coaches in particular you want to highlight?

Pat Summit took a couple years to move to the Baden ball. She was on the Board Pat Summit

of the WBCA, and she said, “I’m very loyal to MacGregor, but if there’s an opening I’ll call you.” And It wasn’t long until she called and said, “I’ve got a problem, you have your opportunity.” We made it happen and the rest is history. Coach Summitt remains an icon in women’s basketball; it was always a privilege to make her game and camp basketballs. And when Betty Jaynes was inducted into the Hall of Fame, she asked me to escort her to the stage. It was quite an honor. She was great. Numerous great relationships came out of that time with women’s basketball coaches, many of whom I remain friends with to this day.


Any final thoughts?

It is just fun to see the heights the women’s game has reached, and to know that Baden played a small part in a decision that helped shape the game. We remain huge fans of women’s basketball and I have no doubt that they made the right decision all those years ago. 

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This change started Baden Sports down the road of truly innovating in athletic balls. It showed everyone that the key element to the game can be improved upon. We are constantly challenging what’s available and coming up with new, innovative products. In fact, Baden just launched our newest game basketball, the Rival, which feels better than any game ball out there at the same price point. We are on a mission to make sports accessible to all, and this basketball is an exciting move in that direction.

 

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Interested in learning more? The Seattle Times wrote an article about Baden Sports' involvement in the development in the women's size basketball.

Image credits:

The Seattle Times Archive

Gonzaga University Digital Archives

Mankato Free Press

Sports Illustrated


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