The major rules changes designed to make college basketball less of a slog are now official.
The NCAA on Monday approved a series of recommendations made by college basketball's rule committee last month including shortening the shot clock, reducing the number of timeouts allotted to each team and increasing the freedom of movement for offensive players.
The most significant change is the implementation of a 30-second shot clock after two decades of offenses having 35 ticks to attempt a shot.
Proponents will note the shorter shot clock should lead to more possessions per game, which should result in more points. Opponents will question whether the change will achieve its goal of a more watchable sport since a shorter shot clock favors defenses and could result in a decrease in shooting percentages.
The other issue with a reduced shot clock is that it's a move toward homogeneity in a sport that is at its best when there's a contrast in styles among opponents.
Whereas most NBA teams rely on man-to-man defense and pick-and-roll offense, college teams play favor many different styles, from Virginia's pack-line man-to-man and patient motion offense, to VCU's fast-paced offense and frenetic full-court pressure defense, to everything in between. A 30-second shot clock wouldn't force every team to dramatically alter its style, but it represents an erosion in the level of contrast.
There's also a chance a shorter shot clock will damage one of the best postseasons in American sports. The popularity of the NCAA tournament is built on the possibility of a high seed falling in the early rounds, but more possessions per game increase the likelihood of the expected outcome because the lesser talented team will have to outperform its opponent more trips down the floor.
The other changes have been almost universally lauded — and with good reason. They address the trends that have inspired concern among high-ranking officials in the sport.
Each team will have four timeouts instead of five and will only be allowed to carry three into the second half. Team timeouts that come within 30 seconds prior of scheduled TV timeouts will become TV timeouts with the exception of the first team timeout of the second half.
Defensive rules will also be tweaked with a wider restricted area underneath the basket and greater freedom of movement for cutters and players driving with the ball. The rules prohibiting clutching, grabbing and arm bars on defense should go a long way toward increasing scoring and shooting percentages if referees actually enforce them.
The push to improve the sport coincides with concern over the decrease in scoring in college basketball.
Scoring in Division I plunging to 67.5 points per game for the 2012-13 season, the lowest in the 3-point era. An emphasis on freedom of movement during the 2013-14 season led to an uptick, but that evaporated quickly and scoring plunged back to 67.7 points per game this past season.
The changes implemented represent the recognition that reform is needed despite an NCAA tournament that produced great games and high ratings.
College basketball's postseason is still as intriguing and action-packed as ever, but its flawed regular season is in need of improvement.
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