Rule changes helping clean up college basketball
PHOENIX (AP) College basketball had bogged down, the scoring at all-time lows, the wrestling under the basket going through gym roofs across the country.
Something had to be done, so the NCAA began implementing rules to clean up and speed up the game.
These new rules, put in place over the past few years, have mostly worked. Scoring is up, the games have more movement and flow, the physical play in the post at least toned down a bit.
''We've made some inroads,'' said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men's basketball championships. ''The past couple years have been very positive in trying to change the direction we were on, but it's an ongoing effort.''
College basketball began to bog down around the turn of the century as players got bigger and stronger and the game failed to adapt.
By the 2012-13 season, scoring in Division I dropped to 67.5 points per game, lowest since 1951-52 - long before the 3-point shot and shot clock were added. It was the fourth straight season scoring dropped.
Shooting percentages and assists dropped, and 3-point shooting dipped to levels not seen since the arc was added in 1986. Fouls also were down, a sign that officials were letting them play, as they say.
Once an offensive game, the game shifted toward the defense, the flow of games like being stuck in stop-and-go traffic.
So what the NCAA did was turn to rules already in place, asking officials to start carrying them to the letter of the law.
No more hand-checking, putting two hands on an opponent, using arm bars or jabbing. The block/charge, the most difficult call in basketball, was altered to limit the big crashes under that occur in every game. A restricted arc was created under the basket to prevent defenders from sliding under offensive players as they rose to the basket.
Last season, the shot clock was reduced from 35 to 30 seconds in an effort to speed up the game.
The NCAA has added to or tweaked the rules each season, hoping to hone the game into a much more high-scoring, free-flowing form.
It certainly worked last season.
Scoring rose from 67.2 points per game to 72.6, possessions per game climbed, field goal percentages and assists increased. Teams also averaged one more foul and one more free throw attempt per game.
''There was a sense a couple years ago that our game was favoring the defensive players a little too much,'' Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. ''We were losing some of the excitement, some of the flow, some of the athleticism, some of the scoring that fans seemed to want. I think we've encouraged some of the rule changes that have freed up the flow of play and shifted the balance a little bit more to the offense.''
This season, the NCAA has asked officials to pay more attention to the physical play in the post and fighting for rebounding position.
There's also a stronger emphasis on preventing defensive players from bellying up on ball handlers, creating a cylinder around the offensive player where any contact is a foul on the defense - as long as the ball handler is making a normal basketball move.
''Overall, it's made our game better and we need to continue to head in that direction to create as much, what I would call, freedom of movement, getting away from the tug-of-war-type basketball that's taken place in the past, particularly in the post,'' Washington State coach Ernie Kent said.
The rules for the post are still a work in progress.
Officials have been asked to call fouls when post players dislodge each other, a defender uses a swim move to get in front of the offensive player or if the defensive players lays on his opponent with more than incidental contact.
The problem is determining how much contact is too much. Players have been taught for years to play a certain way in the post and asking them to make drastic changes to that will only slow the game down as fouls are continuously called.
Players and coaches always find a way to adapt, but finding the right balance in the post will likely be a gradual process.
''We have a ways to go still in the low post,'' Gavitt said. ''That will be the challenge over the next few years. How do we get at the physical play in the low post without bias to the offensive or defensive player? How do you guard legally in the low post, how do you play offense legally in the low post? I think the game will be better when we move forward with that.''
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.