Seth Davis, the Sports Illustrated writer who has become somewhat of a college basketball expert, along with several coaches, feels that college basketball is in a downward spiral. He and others feel that good defense is trumping a fast-paced game and that unless something is done about it, the game will lose it glamour. He advocates changes to several rules that will weaken defense, strengthen offense, increase the speed of the game, and add to scoring.
In the March 9 edition of Sports Illustrated, Davis proposes changes to five rules which will drive defensive-minded coaches and players away from the game. In many respects, a well-played defense, especially one that leads to fast break baskets, is more enjoyable that the idiotic approach of running up and down the court at breakneck speed, attempting to score layouts on each possession. His changes would push the game from accurate three-point shooting and excellent ball movement and superior cutting and screening away from the ball to a fast-paced affair that allows no time to sip a beer or bite into a buffalo wing for fear of missing a score. College basketball, just as is football and, in a way, baseball, should be as much a tactician’s game as it is a sprinters track meet.
In SI, Davis writes/recommends:
- Reduce the shot clock from 35 seconds to either 30 or 24. Davis quotes Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: “A shorter clock means more possessions, and more possessions means more points.” Coach K is probably a smart person, but that statement is not necessarily true. There might be more possessions, but teams with poor shooting and missed shots will not score any more points that will the 35-second clock number of possessions allow. Maybe there a chance for more points, but more possessions will not guarantee it.
- Extend the arc under the basketball from three-feet to four feet to try to draw the defenders , especially the help-side defenders away from the basket, maybe. According to the rules, if a defender has a foot inside the arc, there will not be a charging foul called if an offensive player runs into the defender. By pulling the help-side defender away, Davis says there would be more operating room under the basket. Defensive-minded coaches will keep the lane clogged and play the odds.
- Widen the lane for nearly the same reason as extending the arc, giving drivers to the basket more room to drive, but also teaching post players to shoot facing the basket instead of backing in and trying to dunk. Let’s see: Fans would like to see the 8-foot jumper from, say, NC State’s BeeJay Anya than see him back in and slam one over the defender? Not!
- Move the three-point line back from 20’ to 22’ to give players more room to operate. Davis continues to make it about opening up the court so guards can drive. Maybe the line needs to be moved back but it would reduce the excitement of the three-point shot, taking away an offensive weapon from some teams, though defenders probably would not guard as tightly at that distance so there would be no extra room to drive anyway.
- Limited timeouts but Davis doesn’t say how many. No matter how Davis wants college basketball to be, it’s still a coach-driven game that includes teaching college players how to be aggressive on offense and defense. The timeout is used strategically to halt the run by the opponents, to keep your team in the game. If timeouts are decreased, give the coaches the authority to call for the next media timeout for the same reason they would call their own timeout.
Davis feels the game faces a complacency issue, that the slowdown game causes it and takes away from what he calls a once-beautiful game. A thing of beauty was watching David Thompson in 1974 face his defender who was playing a few feet away, drive at him and pull up for an open jumper. It was the same with Tommy Burleson playing with his back to Len Elmore, stop and skyhook one over him and into the basket. Defenses back them were not so tight.
Today, defenses get away with near murder. “Hand-checks” should be called a foul immediately. When the defense double-teams a player, the referees should watch the leg action and the knee fouling. Other than Davis’ proposed rule changes, there are plenty of ways to open up the game. Or there’s this: If Davis wants to make the game more exciting, to increase scoring, and to open up the floor to allow for more offensive action, the solution is to eliminate players fouling out, allow for free substitutions without the clock stopping, remove the clock altogether and play “First one to 100 points wins!”
If you like college basketball with lots of scoring, that will do the trick. If you enjoy good defense which also includes lots of fast-paced and spectacular play, leave the game as it is. It all seems to work out. The big paychecks from ESPN, CBS and their broadcast sponsors will not end anytime soon no matter how defensive the game is.