College basketball is in a strange place. Scoring has declined almost every season for the past 15 years as coaches attempt to reduce the number of possessions to decrease the affect of the talent gap on game outcomes.1 In other words: in an effort to win more games, college coaches have made the game less fun to watch for people who lack something approaching a coach's eye.
The NCAA Rules Committee has heard the complaints of fans and the media. What follows are the rule changes they will likely implement in hopes of improving college basketball's aesthetic appeal. I will break down how these rules will affect the game and what they mean for a team like Baylor.
NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) May 15, 2015
This rule has grabbed the headlines, but it's effect will be relatively minor. A shorter shot clock should mean more possessions, which should, theoretically, increase scoring. In practice, I'm not sure this will happen. It could just mean that teams will find themselves more frequently in late-clock situations, which do not tend to result in scoring because of the undeveloped skills of the majority of college players. For a team like Baylor that milks the clock for all its worth, this means less time for the team to execute Scott Drew's set plays and a higher likelihood that one of its scorers will have to create something out of nothing. This rule could result in an increase in wasted possessions as much as increased scoring.
Each of these rules seems like a positive change to me. The first is simply a matter of enforcement (which we know college referees struggle with), but the second and third should help reduce the number of charges, which have ever been the bane of college basketball. Offensive players will have some more leeway creating contact in the air, and the 2nd and 3rd defenders will have a longer distance to travel in order to gain position for the charge. This set of rules will have less of an effect on zone defenses, since those schemes rely less on defensive rotations to protect the rim. It should help players like Taurean Prince, who drive towards the basket and create contact inside.2
Fewer timeouts! Less stoppage! These are the rules that should, if enforced properly, most dramatically improve the aesthetics of college basketball. Timeouts and commercials drag down the flow and experience of the game more than anything else. Of course, if your favorite thing is close-ups of players huddling around their coach frantically shouting and scribbling on a white board, these rules will probably bum you out.
The other ramification is that coaches will have fewer opportunities with which to instruct their players. This increases the influence of the players' decision making, which can be questionable.
Other #MBBRules proposals include eliminating coach-called live ball timeouts and 10 second backcourt timer will not reset with timeout.— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) May 15, 2015
While the other rules favor the offense, this one rewards the defense. These rules would eliminate bail out timeouts from coaches when their ball-handler gets cornered and will incentivize teams to trap in the back court. Presumably, players will still be able to call live-ball timeouts. For Baylor, this will mean that the ball-handlers will have to be extra attentive to double teams and ball pressure. Last season, Drew called a bail-out time out nearly once a game. If the players don't keep their heads about them, this could add a turnover or two to each game.
More #MBBRules proposals: Hanging on rim technical reduced to 1 shot; elimination of 5-second closely guarded; allow pregame warmup dunking.— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) May 15, 2015
I am pro-dunking. Anything that punishes dunking is anathema to me. Additionally, the removal of the 5-second closely guarded rule should be a welcome sight. The closely guarded rule is a more amorphous form of the charge. It allows the defense to earn a turnover simply by standing close to a player, rather than actually defending and attempting to create the turnover by forcing the offense into a mistake. Theoretically, the rule seems to have been intended to increase passing. In actuality, the rule only created a strange dance between the ball-handler and his defender, where the ball-handler had to juke the defender into taking a step backwards to reset the count. More importantly, it added one more thing to the referee's long list of responsibilities. Now that referees don't have to worry about counting to five, perhaps they can be more attentive to more important factors in the game.
In all, I am pretty behind these changes. They are all aimed at making the games more enjoyable to watch, and I think we can all agree that's a good thing.
Have your own thoughts on the rule change proposals? To the comments!
(Note: If the footnote links don't work properly, it's because I am really bad at html.)
1. In my original draft of this article, I had a 500 word preface explaining more precisely how coaches are using recently acquired statistical information to increase their odds of winning, but then I realized it was long, a bit of a rabbit trail, and kinda boring. At a later date, I'll return to write a post about exactly how Drew has constructed a team that thrives in modern basketball and why it is just no fun to watch.↩
2. Some will decry this rule as a bail-out for an out of control offensive player. That's a fair criticism.↩