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NCAA Rule Changes: Good or Bad?

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The three point line is moving back, among other changes for next season

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Iowa Hawkeyes vs Cincinnati Bearcats Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA has approved five rule changes for next season. Let’s take a look and see which changes are good, which are bad, and which don’t matter.

Rule Change #1: The Three-Point Line Will Move Back To The International Distance of 22’ 1.75”

Verdict: Doesn’t Matter

Of the five rule changes, this is the biggest, but I really don't think it’s going to have much of an impact. Last time the NCAA moved the three-point line back, three-point shooting percentages dropped by 0.8%. That’s not particularly significant.

The NCAA claims that the rule change will have three benefits:

  • Slowing the trend of the 3-point shot becoming too prevalent in men’s college basketball by making the shot a bit more challenging, while at the same time keeping the shot an integral part of the game.
  • Making the lane more available for dribble/drive plays from the perimeter.
  • Assisting in offensive spacing by requiring the defense to cover more of the court.

I’m not sure any of these goals are really going to be met. For the first one, good luck trying to get teams to shoot fewer threes. Steph Curry and the Warriors showed everyone what the future of basketball looks like, and it involves a lot of three pointers and layups and nothing else. Whether that’s good or bad for the game is an open question, but as a new generation of coaches come up through the system relying on analytics that show long twos are a poor option, more teams will rely more heavily on the three.

The second and third goals are really saying the same thing—that the rule change will open the court up. But will it? If a team could hit from 22 feet, 1.75 inches, then the defense already had to guard them out that far. And if the first goal is successful, making offenses less likely to shoot there three, then defenses will actually have less incentive to guard farther out.

No, this change was really all about a fourth, unstated goal:

  • Harmonizing college basketball with international FIBA rules.

Now say what you want about the NCAA—most fans don’t trust them at all—but I will say I trust them with the college game a hell of a lot more than I do FIBA. If this rule change is a sign of the inexorable march towards international rules at all levels above high school, count me out. I want international basketball to look more like the US college game rather than vice versa.

But given that college rule changes are ultimately in the hands of the coaches, I doubt we’ll see quarters (shot down hard recently) or the-ball-is-live-once-it-hits-the-rim anytime soon. (I admit I would be curious to see the NIT experiment with the latter.)

All in all, this rule change won’t change much, except it will make courts look uglier, since I don’t believe the women’s line will be moving from its current distance. For purely aesthetic reasons, I would have voted against the change. But it’s fine. It won’t ruin college hoops.

Rule Change #2: The Shot Clock Resets To 20 Seconds On An Offensive Rebound

Verdict: Good Change

I admit that I can be kind of a stick in the mud about some things. I was against reducing the college shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds several years ago. But I admit I was wrong about that. After watching lots and lots of college basketball games, it’s clear that 30 seconds is still plenty of time for an offense to work for a good shot.

This rule change can be thought of as an offshoot of that one. There’s no reason that an offense should need a full 30 seconds to get back into their offense after a missed shot. On most misses, players end up out of position, leading to defensive breakdowns and a quick shot. The only time teams take 30 whole seconds off a miss is when they have a late lead and are trying to stall. Nobody wants to watch that.

Rule Change #3: Goaltending Calls Can Be Reviewed During The Last Two Minutes Or During Overtime

Verdict: Good Change

I hate going to the monitor. Hate it. It happens way too often and lasts for way too long. When the officials take forever to set the shot clock to 23 seconds three minutes into the first half, I want to tear my hair out. When teams get a free timeout because the officials want to make sure the ball should be inbounded with 3.3 instead of 3.2 seconds at the end of a game, I scream into my pillow.

But on the whole, it’s good that officials have the option of reviewing a play to make sure they got the call right, particularly in end-of-game situations. I’m not sure how in the world this wasn’t already one of the items that was allowed to be reviewed, but it’s a good addition. I know Kentucky fans wish the rule had been in place this past season.

Rule Change #4: Coaches Can Call Live Ball Timeouts During The Last Two Minutes Of A Game

Verdict: Bad Change

This is all about coaches being control freaks. When they changed the rule that players had to be the ones who called timeout during live play, that was a good change. Coaches can still call timeouts on dead balls. They can still tell officials they want a timeout if a free throw goes in. But during live play, the officials should be paying attention to the players, not the coaches.

Coaches want this change because they want to be able to prevent turnovers late in the game. If they see something that they think is going to cause a problem, they want to be able to call a timeout to regroup.

This change is bad for the game. Not only does it mean that officials will have to keep one eye on the coach during the point in the game where they need both eyes on the court, but it also creates a moral hazard. Hey, coach, how about instead of calling timeout to save your team from screwing up, you coach them not to screw up in the first place? Or you let events play out? Both are far more entertaining for me as a fan than sitting through another Liberty Mutual commercial while you talk to your team for the second time in the past six seconds.

Rule Change #5: Players Can Be Assessed A Flagrant Two (Meaning Ejection) For Derogatory Language Aimed At An Opponent’s Race Or Gender

Verdict: Doesn’t Matter

On the one hand, I’m a curmudgeon who doesn’t think that political correctness and virtue signaling are a good reason to change the rules of basketball. That’s never been true before. Did we ban communistic rhetoric from trash talk in the 1950s? Why this change now? Was there a heavier-than-usual concentration of ethnic slurs being used by players this past season?

But come on, the refs are still going to let the players trash talk each other all day. The best (or worst, depending on your point of view) stuff isn’t barked out loud so that a ref can hear it anyway. It’s said under your breath as you run back down the floor after just burying a three in your man’s eye, or when you’re banging against a guy down low on the block. If refs start blowing their whistle because they think they heard one guy call another a sissy, and they go to the monitor to read lips, then this is a horrendous rule change.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, though. I’d be shocked if this rule gets applied more than a handful of times. If a player dunks on someone, then stands over top of him and calls him the N-word, obviously they should be kicked out of the game, but I’m pretty sure that would already have happened with any referee who’s worth his salt.

Conclusion

I’m against rule changes in principle. Anytime you change the rules, you get these people crawling out of the woodwork with their opinions about what other rule changes they think ought to be made, and you realize that at least 50% of college basketball fans are complete idiots. To quote G.K. Chesterton:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’

Or put another way, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

That said, the Powers That Be seem like they’ve done a good job with rule changes over the past few years. The reduced shot clock was fine. Freedom of movement accomplished what it set out to do. Timeout reform was inspired. So I have a little bit of trust built up with the rules committee, and none of these are major changes. College basketball is almost certainly still going to be the best sport in the world once November rolls around.

Man, I hate the offseason.