Difference Between Men's & Women's Basketball
There are quite a few differences between men's and women's basketball, many of which have to do with the rules. They also include the style of play as well as its overall popularity.
The first major difference in men’s and women’s basketball is the size of basketball used. In men’s basketball, starting from the high school level, through the NCAA and National Basketball Association, players use basketballs that measure 29.5”.
Women’s basketball players, from high school to WNBA players, use a 28.5” basketball size in basketball games.
When watching a men’s or women’s basketball game, you may notice that the three-point line is a different distance at each level. Here is a rundown of the three-point arc distance in basketball:
- Women’s High School Basketball: 19 feet, 9 inches
- Men’s High School Basketball: 19 feet, 9 inches
- NCAA Women’s Basketball (Division I): 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches
- NCAA Men’s Basketball (Division I): 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches
- Women’s Professional Basketball: 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches (top of key), 22 feet (corners)
- Men’s Professional Basketball: 23 feet, 9 inches (top of key), 22 feet, 3 inches
Style of Play
Like you might expect, the style of play varies widely for men’s and women’s basketball leagues. In the men’s game, you might expect to see more scoring and more dunks, whereas in the women’s game, you might expect to see more layups and less scoring.
An interesting stat when comparing men’s and women’s basketball is free-throw percentage. According to a 30-year study published by SBS Sport, NCAA Division I women’s basketball players shot, on average, about 3% better from the free-throw line than their male counterparts.
The backcourt rule states that a player with possession of the ball has a certain number of seconds to cross the half-court line. In men's college basketball, the ball must cross the halfcourt line in 10 seconds, whereas women's college basketball doesn't employ the 10-second rule.
There are differences in playing time in both men’s and women’s basketball at the professional and college level.
In the NBA, basketball teams compete for four 12-minute quarters, whereas WNBA teams play for four 10-minute quarters. In men’s college basketball, teams play two 20-minute halves, but the women play four 10-minute quarters.
NBA games employ a 24-second shot clock, and men’s college basketball games use a 30 second shot clock. In the same fashion, WNBA games use a 24-second shot clock and Women’s NCAA games use a 30-second shot clock.
The most glaring difference in the men’s and women’s game is popularity- both in attendance and TV ratings.
According to ESPN, the NBA’s leader in attendance in 2022 was the Chicago Bulls- they averaged a crowd of 20,881 through 41 home games. On the other hand, the WNBA’s leader in attendance was the Seattle Storm, and they averaged 10,631 fans in attendance for each home game.
At the college level, the gap in attendance continues. When combining the regular season and NCAA Tournament, men’s division I basketball games averaged nearly 3,000 more fans in attendance than women’s division I games. When looking strictly at the NCAA basketball tournament, men’s teams averaged 19,012 fans in attendance, while women’s teams averaged 7,193 fans.
As for TV ratings, college athletics tells a big story. In the first two rounds of March Madness in 2022, men’s games averaged 9.12 million viewers. In the women’s tournament, the first two rounds averaged 474,000 viewers.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.