As we noted yesterday, college basketball is not the sport in a sky-is-falling crisis that it has been dramatically exaggerated to be for pretty much the entire 2014-15 season.
Evaluation is always a good thing, though, and for that reason it’s perfectly fair to consider the sport and whether rule changes and amendments would benefit it. We’re glad to do that, taking a look at some changes we’d like to see, and some that should be junked from consideration for a good long while.
The number one change we would like to see in the sport, though, is not a rule change at all, and it wasn’t a rule change two years ago, either. In the summer of 2013, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee approved the re-emphasis of rules to reduce hand and arm contact. The so-called “freedom of movement” rules were not actually new rules, but merely a significant point of emphasis-and they worked.
Scoring in NCAA Division I men’s basketball averaged 67.5 points per game in 2012-13, the lowest levels in 60 years. It jumped to 71.0 ppg in 2013-14, not pre-shot clock levels but its highest level in 12 years and a comfortable number in line with those from the late 1990’s.
The caviat with the re-enforcement of these rules was that there was going to be an adjustment period, some long games with a whole lot of fouls. There also were going to be coaches who didn’t like them, because they went against the weight room-dominated philosophy that they had considerable success with. It turned out there were also officials who would not comply, either because of pressure from coaches or because they simply didn’t like being told how to officiate a game.
We all know by now what happened. As 2013-14 went on, college basketball increasingly went right back to its Greco-Roman levels of contact. Scoring levels continued to drop in conference play, and by this past season the sport was right back to where it was two years earlier.
The No. 1 change college basketball needs this offseason should be obvious: the freedom of movement rules need to be pushed again. And again. And again.
If they are, the sport will get better. And if some coaches don’t like it? Too bad.
If had to make a bet, would make a deal with anyone. Give us two years of freedom of movement rules, enforced consistently. If they fail to lift scoring, then go ahead, do whatever you want with the shot clock. Make it 10 seconds if you want.
We’re all but certain, though, that they wouldn’t fail. They were already working last year, and they would’ve worked better with even more time. It’s just a shame we didn’t get a chance to see it.
Rule changes we would like to see:
1) Timeouts reduced from five to three.
The easiest one of all. As long as media timeouts are now mandated for every single Division I game (even those that are nowhere close to a TV), then there is no reason whatsoever why coaches cannot subsist on three timeouts per game. Make them full timeouts if you like, but three is more than plenty. Next to freedom of movement, a reduction in timeouts is the best way to take the game back from coaches and give it back to players, while also making it easier on the eyes. This change is so far beyond due it’s absurd, and the fact that coaches don’t want to surrender them is exactly why coaches should not have any input on this one.
2) Further enforcement of the 5-second closely guarded call.
Often left unidentified as one of the biggest problems with college basketball is this: there is way too much dribbling. Way too much. One way to curb that is to increase enforcement of the closely guarded call, which allows officials to start their count when a defender is within six feet of a dribbler. Our gut feeling is that, in practice, the actual starting spot for this count has shrunk to about 3-4 feet, so the first suggestion would be further enforcement of the six-foot rule. If that’s not the answer, then perhaps the solution is to increase the distance to eight feet. This would be a way to encourage offenses to “shoot it or move it,” reducing dribbling and/or encouraging players to make moves if they are going to dribble. It also is a way to reward good defense on the ball, lest anyone worry that the game is becoming too soft when freedom of movement rules are further enforced.
3) Get rid of the restricted arc under the basket.
We’re told time and again that this arc opens up the sport. Watch a couple games sometime, and keep track of exactly how many block/charge plays happen in a game where this line comes into effect. You’ll be lucky to find an average of one per game. By far the most overrated rule change the sport has had in many years, and it just creates more confusion for officials who spend more time looking at the floor than whether a defender is positioned. Even with the arc, there’s too much for officials to watch and it is more than occasionally not called right anyway. There is already enough to look at with the block/charge call. Eliminate it, and the only ones who will notice it are the ones fixated with NBA-izing the sport.
Rule changes that should not happen, maybe ever:
1) Shorter shot clock.
In the last year of the 45-second shot clock, teams averaged 73.6 ppg. This past year with a 35-second clock, they averaged 67.6. There is no statistical correlation suggesting that the shot clock being too long is the reason that scoring has gone down. None. If anything, it’s the opposite, and we’d be better back at 45 seconds, something we’ll debate tomorrow. Next question.
2) Changes to the 10-second back court rules.
Some have complained about teams being able to call a timeout in the back court to save a possession, and then receiving another 10 seconds when they inbound after the timeout. Here’s the thing: if you reduce the number of timeouts teams have, this is a non-issue. If teams have three timeouts per game, those TO’s suddenly are far more valuable. If a team wants to burn a valuable timeout in the back court to save a 10-second violation? Let them. Even in the sport’s current state, defense is rewarded more than enough; there’s no reason to throw in yet another rule for it.
3) Wider lane.
Again, this is another one of those NBA rules that people think will “open up” the college game but that, again, does not take into account that college basketball is not the NBA and is not filled with NBA-level finishers and post players. In fact, college basketball already is struggling with back-to-the-basket post play. Force those post players to now work from even further away, and just watch for more clanked 10-footers, as well as more wild, out-of-control drives to the rim by guys who can’t finish them off.
Tomorrow: A 45-second shot clock? Why not? There is every bit as much evidence to support it as there is to support a shorter one.