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Friday’s most important rule changes only matter if refs actually enforce them

Mark Whitehead, Terry Oglesby

AP Photo


Mark Whitehead, Terry Oglesby

AP Photo


On Friday, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee announced that they had approved a package of proposals designed to improve college basketball, proposals that will become rules if they are approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel on a conference call on June 8th.

Many of the proposed rule changes are designed to improve the watchability of the college game. The charge circle will be pushed out a foot to four feet, making it more difficult for weak-side defenders to draw offensive fouls. The number of timeouts that college coaches have at their disposal will be reduced from five to four, and any coach’s timeout that occurs within 30 seconds of a scheduled TV timeout will be used as the TV timeout. There will also be limits on just how long reviews can last, and referees will be able to punish floppers if they review a potential flagrant foul and determine that no contact was made.

The most notable change, however, will be the reduction of the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds. It’s a logical and necessary change for no other reason than it simply does not make sense to have men’s college basketball be the lone outlier. The NBA and FIBA use 24-second shot clocks. Women’s basketball uses a 30-second clock. The only high-level basketball league in the world that uses a 35-second clock is men’s college basketball.

Think about it like this: If we were starting the sport of men’s college basketball from scratch today and I proposed that we used a 35-second clock just to be different, no one would take me seriously. I’d probably get laughed at because everyone would assume such an asinine idea had to be a joke and thrown out of the room when they realized that I was, in fact, being serious.

The bottom line is that the only reason a team used all 35 seconds on the shot clock was because that was their game-plan. All this reduction will do is take away five seconds of false motion or five seconds of a point guard dribbling out the shot clock for the teams that want to slow the pace.

And even then, it’s hard to imagine this reduction really changing the college game all that much, particularly in the short-term.

The same can be said for the other proposed rule changes I mentioned earlier.

Moving the charge circle out a foot will make offensive players more likely to attack the rim. One NBA scout told me this season that he got frustrated scouting college games because the guys he was watching were afraid to attack the rim. It was too easy to draw a charge, so he couldn’t get a feel for how the kids he was scouting could finish when they were challenged by a shot blocker. Watching dunks in traffic and defenders block potential posters is as entertaining as any moment in sports, and maybe this rule helps make that happen more often.

But how often are we really going to see a poster? Maybe once per game, if that? Maybe 20 more vines go viral during the 2015-16 season, but mostly, this rule will just reduce the amount of bitching and moaning I do about awful charge calls.

The rule changes about timeouts and reviews will also help with the pace of play, especially at the end of games, but fans are already tuning into end-of-game situations regardless of how quickly or slowly they happen.

And those end up being, what, the final five or ten minutes of a broadcast?

If we really want to improve the sport, if we really want to get casual fans interested in more than just the NCAA tournament and the chance to see a buzzer-beater at the end of a Big Monday game, the emphasis needs to be on bringing back the freedom of movement rules that were put into place in the 2013-14 season.

“The increase in the physicality of play has been a major concern for coaches,” Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter, the president of the NABC, said. “The NCAA rules committee has addressed that this week with an emphasis on perimeter defense and post play.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self agreed.

“I do think the biggest thing that needed to be done was to clean up the game to basically call the game that the rules were intended for it to be called,” he told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “And it’s not officials’ fault. It’s a combination of officials, coaches, everything, because coaches get by with as much as they can get by with.”

Self is right.

The changes that were made at the start of the 2013-14 season lasted into conference play, but not much further than that. Eventually, the combination of coaches complaining, fan pushback and referees getting tired of blowing a whistle on every possession more or less nullified those rule changes. In simpler terms, the coaches told their players to keep playing the way they were playing because the refs simply would not call every single foul.

There’s a simple way to solve that problem, a simple way to change the way that the college game is played: Call those fouls.

Every. Single. One.

Every hand check, every hold, every cutter that’s “bumped” with a forearm shiver to the collarbone, every defender that tries to take a charge by sliding under an offensive player that’s already in the air.

The rules need to change the way that coaches teach defense, and the only way to do that is by making it impossible to win the old way.