6-Player Basketball: Louisiana-Lafayette Didn’t Invent It

During the final 21 seconds of overtime in last night’s Sun Belt Conference showdown between Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky, the Ragin’ Cajuns played with 6 players on the court. The 6-man Cajuns scored the game winning bucket with 3.6 seconds, though the play they ran didn’t take advantage of the power play.

Neither the officials nor the announcers noticed that there were six players wearing red jerseys during the game’s final sequence. Here’s the video:

 

Had the officials noticed Lafayette’s extra player, the penalty would have been a technical foul. In nearly all forms of basketball today, playing with six players is illegal. But there was a time when 6-player basketball was common.

In 1892, one year after Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, Senda Berenson adapted the game for women and girls. Originally the women’s game involved nine players on a side, but it eventually settled on 6, which remained a standard for several decades.

In 6-on-6 women’s basketball, each team had three offensive players—forwards—who spent the entire game on one half of the court and three defensive players—guards—who spent the entire game on the other half of the court. One team’s guards would defend the other team’s forwards. No players were allowed to cross the half-court line.

A 6-on-6 game during the 1959-60 season between Iowa's Nevada and Ballard high schools. (From the "I Played 6 on 6 basketball in Iowa" Facebook page)

Beginning in the 1950s, states abandoned the 6-player game in favor of the traditional rules. By the 1970s 6-on-6 basketball had disappeared, except in Oklahoma and Iowa. Girls in those states continued playing with 6 players into the 1990s (1993 for Iowa and 1995 for Oklahoma).

In Iowa 6-on-6 high school girls basketball was a phenomenon and was far more popular than the boys game. The 6-player game moved much faster than traditional basketball and scores of girls high school games were often in the triple digits. Union-Whitten High School’s Denise Long averaged 62.8 points in the 1967-68 season and once scored 111 points in a single game. (The San Francisco Warriors drafted Long in the 13th round of the 1969 NBA Draft, but commissioner Walter Kennedy voided the pick.)

The CBS Morning News did a segment on 6-on-6 basketball in Iowa back in 1988:

 

And here’s footage from Iowa’s 1976 state championship game:



About Josh Tinley

Josh Tinley writes the Away From The Action column at Midwest Sports Fans, covering all aspects of sport aside from what actually happens on the field, court, or track. Josh grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from the University of Evansville and Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports and the managing editor of LinC, a weekly curriculum for teens that explores the intersection of faith and culture. Josh lives outside Nashville with his wife, Ashlee, and children, Meyer (7), Resha Kate (5), and Malachi (3). He will not allow himself to die before the Evansville Purple Aces make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Follow him on Twitter @joshtinley or send him an e-mail.

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