Rule makers planning to make NCAA men's basketball even more fan-friendly

Although UConn guard Shabazz Napier, center, had no problem generating offense, scoring was down in the title game. But overall, tournament scoring improved over last year. (AP Photo)

DALLAS – College basketball's rule makers and rule enforcers sent the message last year: stop holding and hacking, and stop trying to take a charge on every play.

The message was received, and the game was better in 2013-14. Thanks to an emphasis on restoring freedom of movement for offensive players and limitations on secondary defenders drawing charges, we saw less assault and battery on dribblers and fewer collisions under the rim. Scoring was up, muggings and flops were down.

Now the trend has to continue.

Led by Belmont coach Rick Byrd, chairman of the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee, a group of administrators and coaches met with a handful of media members Monday at the Final Four to discuss the state of the game from a rules perspective. The group provided data on the impact of the rules enacted/enforced last season and a potential roadmap for what might be next.

In the 2014 NCAA tournament, scoring was up 4.2 percent over the previous tourney (at least heading into the championship game, which was far more low-scoring than last year). Field-goal percentage was up from 42.3 percent to 44.3 percent. Free-throw attempts were up 4.2 percent, and fouls called were up 3.5 percent. Turnovers were down 14.2 percent.

Those numbers largely mirrored what transpired during the regular season. And after some initial howling about too many whistles, most people inside and outside the game were happy with those developments.

"It felt like the noise died down as the season went on," said NCAA Men's Basketball Officiating Coordinator John Adams. "The officiating met the expectation of the coaches."

"In general, the consensus was that coaches liked the changes that were made," Notre Dame's Mike Brey said.

Scoring did decline every month, from a high of 73.2 per team in November to a low of 69.1 per team in March. Some of that can be attributed to a backslide by officials in calling the game more tightly, but as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany pointed out, there are other factors. Namely, the scouting emphasis and defensive intensity in a November home mismatch or a tournament in the Bahamas will pale in comparison to what is seen in conference and postseason play.

"We changed the trajectory of the game from one that is defensively dominant to one that is more offense-friendly," Delany said.

But this season was just establishing a beachhead in the clean-up-the-game invasion. When the next rule-change cycle begins in 2015, Division I rules secretary Art Hyland said the top two items on the agenda will be limiting the physical play in the post and freeing up cutters to move away from the ball.

And there is a long list of what may come next. Among the big items that will be placed on the agenda for discussion:

Reducing the number of timeouts. Everyone agreed that one of the biggest detractions of the current game is the eternity it takes to end a close one. That is largely due to the number of timeouts granted to each team, both officially (five per team per game) and unofficially (coaches are given a minute to substitute when a player fouls out). Replay reviews are viewed as a necessary evil in the quest for the right calls, but they also add to the length of an endgame situation. Coaches cherish their control of the game and thus will be loath to surrender timeouts, but fans everywhere would embrace fewer stoppages in play – especially late in a game. The NCAA said it will begin tracking the length of games next year, as it does in football.

"Length is becoming a concern," said David Worlock, NCAA associate director of men's basketball.

Widening the lane.

An elimination of live-ball timeouts, or at least limiting those calls to players instead of coaches. This would be a move toward FIBA international rules, which allow no live-ball timeouts.

Revisiting the 10-second backcourt rule, which currently allows a bailout for the offensive team if it calls timeout before passing midcourt.

Reducing the shot clock to either 30 or 24 seconds. Brey said he is in favor, and there seems to be fairly wide support for a reduction of some kind – although there also is a concern about college hoops becoming an NBA copycat league. (Interestingly, Byrd said his Belmont team occasionally uses a 12-second shot clock in practice to force tempo and enhance conditioning.)

An examination of the NBA's continuation rule, and whether it should be applied similarly in college. There was not much support in the meeting room for that idea.

No scoring on a charge. Baskets off a charge are waved off in every level of basketball except college.

Bottom line: College basketball was a more aesthetically pleasing game in 2013-14, and that trend should continue as players and coaches continue to adjust to the idea of less hands-on defense. And the rules custodians have more changes to consider that will make the game more fan-friendly in the future.

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