Difference Between Men's & Women's Basketball

Close-up of three basketball players sitting on basketballs
A man and a woman sitting on basketballs on the court. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

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. While both the men's and women's games depend on the players having high skill levels, the men tend to score a few more points.

Ball Size

The size of the ball in women's basketball ranges from 28 1/2 to 29 inches in circumference. The basketball in the men's game is between 29 1/2 and 30 inches. Women's hands are smaller than men's hands on average, so it's easier for women to handle the smaller ball.

Three-Point Shot

The three-point basket is an integral part of both men's and women's basketball. In the college game, the men's three-point line is 20 feet 9 inches from the rim while the women's arc is 19 feet 9 inches away. Similarly, the NBA's three-point line varies from 22 to 23 feet 9 inches, while the WNBA arc measures 20 feet, 6 1/4 inches from the hoop. According to the "St. Petersburg Times," college men make about 35 percent of their three-point attempts on average, while female collegians make about 32 percent.

Style of Play

Styles of play vary widely for men's and women's teams, depending on their personnel. Men's games do tend to feature more scoring -- about five more points per game on the college level -- and men shoot a bit better from the field, although free-throw shooting is about even. Because men are taller more men can dunk the ball and play above the rim.

Backcourt Rule

In men's college basketball, the ball must cross the halfcourt line in 10 seconds and the offensive team must shoot within 35 seconds of gaining possession. Women's college basketball doesn't employ the 10-second rule, although there is a 30-second shot clock in both college and the WNBA. The NBA has a 24-second clock.

Popularity

Men's college and professional basketball has been a mainstream sport in the United States since the 1940s. Women have been playing just as long, but the sport did not become popular until the mid-1980s. Men's attendance and television ratings are significantly higher than women's. Ohio State University mens' basketball, for example, averages more than 15,000 fans per game, while the women's team averages about 3,510 per game. This is a common differential among many major college teams, but there are exceptions. For example, Tennessee's Lady Volunteers regularly sell out and often draw bigger crowds than the men's team. Connecticut's Lady Huskies draw sell-out crowds, just like the men's squad.

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