By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
I sure hope the NCAA knows what it’s doing.
Now, if you chuckled at that sentence, I wouldn’t necessarily blame you, and you probably wouldn’t be alone. Some people would claim the NCAA doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to making decisions or operating in a way that avoids criticism or even legal action, as evidenced by the seemingly constant debate about student-athlete compensation and court cases regarding student-athlete likenesses in media, specifically video games.
My concerns this time are less about off-the-court policy and more about some significant rule changes adopted by both men’s and women’s basketball going into effect this season.
In my opinion, the most significant changes in both sports have to do with the clock. The women’s game is changing its game clock structure from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters, the structure used in the WNBA.
According to the NCAA release announcing the changes, “The NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee, which initially recommended the rule change, believes the four-quarter format will enhance the flow of the game.”
Count me as skeptical.
I may be being a bit too simplistic here, but disregarding timeouts and any other stoppages, a four-quarter game will inherently have more breaks in play—both at quarter breaks and halftime—than a two-half game, which just has one halftime break. So looking at it from that perspective, I don’t really see how this change will enhance the flow of the game.
There is a proposal, however, to reduce the number of team timeouts from five to four, which would eliminate one stoppage. Under the current rule, there would be one “use it or lose it” timeout in the first half, as only three can be taken to the second half.
On the men’s side, the shot clock will be reduced from 35 to 30 seconds. This is the last time the shot clock has been altered since it was changed from 45 to 35 seconds prior to the 1993-94 season, according to a NCAA release outlining the changes in the men’s game.
The release explained that the change was born “with an eye on reducing inaction” and focused on increasing the overall scoring output in the game (Division I teams averaged 67.6 points per game last season). Dayton averaged just a tick above that this past season, scoring 68.2 points per game, while giving up 60.8, a pretty clear indication of the team’s success.
Once again, I’m a little skeptical that this will have a positive effect on scoring, at least a noticeable one. All this change does is give offenses less time to find a good shot in the flow of their offense, which could lead to more forced, low-percentage shots and potentially even more shot-clock violations. At least in the short term, it might do more to reward good defense than help bad offense.
Another Division I program hopes to gain an advantage from the new shot clock—but surely not in the way the NCAA envisioned. Purdue University, whose program has long been considered one of the toughest defensive teams in college basketball, took to Twitter when the rules were announced.
“Last year we forced 19 shot clock violations,” Purdue Basketball’s official Twitter account posted in a graphic, along with a tweet thanking the NCAA for the rule change. “If you thought it was tough to score on us in 35 seconds, your life just got harder.”
— Purdue Basketball (@BoilerBall) June 9, 2015
Other efforts the NCAA announced, such as directing referees to more strictly enforce rules regarding physicality and offensive freedom of movement, should hopefully do more to help offensive flow and effectiveness. The rules are the same ones established prior to the 2013-14 season, which saw a surge in fouls called in the first month or so of the season before referees reverted back to the old rules which allow for more contact between defenders and the offense, both on and off the ball.
There are some people who are lauding these changes in both games as a welcome shift to become more like professional basketball. The NCAA also approved a rule in the women’s game that lets a team advance the ball to halfcourt in the last minute of the fourth quarter and any overtime following a timeout, now a rule for both the NBA and WNBA. It is intended to create more excitement and allow for easier scoring opportunities, even though, in most cases, the offensive team may have done nothing to earn advancing halfway down the court.
I caution those people who applaud shifting closer to professional basketball. I believe there is a reason college basketball has been noticeably different from the professional level for such a long time: The majority of college basketball players are not—and will not be—professionals. Trying to force a structure that has always been reserved for professionals onto a group that just might not be good enough to play that way could be detrimental to the quality of play in the college game. Professional players can play a quicker and (sometimes) more exciting game because they are some of the best athletes in the world.
The college game is, or was, played the way it always has been for a reason.