Ms. Nankivel was a great first grade teacher. She pushed us to read beyond the level of our first grade reader. She did not simply give us a spelling word list, but insisted that we participate in class spelling contests on a regular basis. This often led to public embarrassment in front of the class, and to crying and wailing about how some students got words that were easier than others. When a student overstepped their boundaries by fighting, yelling, lying, cheating, or behaving in an unruly manner, Ms. Nankivel broke out the ping-pong paddle. She demanded that the violator hold out their hand (palm up), and she then delivered a smack to the palm with the paddle. It did not hurt, but the noise was startling and terrifying. "Miss Nan" was forged out of the Bob Knight mold: a disciplinarian, demanding that we read more, listen more carefully, spell better, and drink our milk with maniacal vigor (maybe a slight exaggeration). She knew what was best, and she made the rules. We followed them, and we were better for it.
Like Miss Nan's rules in the classroom, many of the rules of basketball have softened over time. A palm is no longer a palm, and traveling is no longer traveling. The game has changed. I am guessing that many primary school teachers opt not to smack kids with ping-pong paddles, too. Although it worked for Miss Nan and her students, that is probably a good thing. There are two sets of rules changes occurring this season: (1) general rules changes for all games all season long, and (2) a set of experimental rules that will be tried out in the early season games and tournaments that I talked about last week.
GENERAL RULES CHANGESThe role of television monitors will be much more prevalent this season than in past years. Many a hoops purist will recoil in horror when instant replay makes its way onto the hardwood, but it is gradually happening. Officials have been using monitors to determine if a shot was a two-point or three-point goal for a few years now (see Patrick Sparks' shot in the Kentucky/Michigan State Elite Eight game last season). This new rule regarding the use of television monitors has two levels. First, game officials will be able to use courtside television monitors to determine whether a foul committed near the end of the first half or second half (when it impacts the outcome of the game) occurred before 0:00 appeared on the game clock. The 0:00 reading already has been used to determine shot-clock violations or to discover if a player released a shot in time at the end of the game. With this added wrinkle, fouls occurring at or near the buzzer could be reviewed. Secondly, after determining if there was a foul, officials will be allowed to use the television monitors to place the correct time on the clock or to put the correct time on the clock after the ball passes through the net. Historically, officials could only adjust the game clock time in the event of a timer's error.
What does this mean? For starters, it means that college basketball is moving toward using technology to "get it right." Making the right call is critical, but hopefully we will not see Tom Izzo or Roy Williams throwing a red flag on the court to challenge a call anytime soon. Using technology to make the correct call or set the correct time at the end of a game is great, but technology should not interrupt the flow of the game. When play reviews stop the natural flow of the game, it has gone too far. This should not be the case with these new rules, as they only apply to end of half and end of game situations.
While the use of television monitors undoubtedly will make an impact on the outcomes of games, the new "kicked ball" rule is my favorite of this year's rules adaptations. No longer will a kicked ball result in a full reset of the 35-second shot clock. Starting this season, if a ball is kicked with less than 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock, the shot clock will only be reset to 15 seconds. If a ball is kicked with more than 15 seconds left in the possession, there is no reset of the clock at all. Therefore, if a ball is kicked with 18 seconds left in the possession, no change in the shot clock will occur. Under the old rule, the defense was penalized too harshly for a kicked ball. This is a good move.
Some other minor changes have been handed down as well. The time allowed to replace a player that has fouled out or has been otherwise disqualified has been reduced from 30 seconds to 20 seconds. It seems to take a full minute or more to replace a disqualified player in some cases, so hopefully this change means that officials will crack down on the "free time out" that coaches often take when someone fouls out. Another minor change applies to the colors of head bands and wrist bands. Players must wear accessories that match the dominant colors of their school's uniform. Furthermore, the head bands and wrist bands may have but one logo and it must be either the team's or the manufacturer's logo. The NCAA desires more "uniformity in the uniforms" (that is their wording, worthy of a slot on a Bushisms calendar). Finally, the all-important matter of gymnasium padding looms large. If existing walls or other facility features near the court of play might present a hazard to student athletes, padding should be installed. Good idea. The NCAA is always thinking ahead.
In addition to these rules changes, the NCAA has marked two points of emphasis for officials this season: palming the ball and rough play. Iverson-esque crossovers and Shaq-like back downs should be called as violations. Cuffing the ball on a dribble and carrying it across the body should be a no-no. Using one's body as a battering ram to displace someone down low also should draw a whistle. We shall see how this plays out.
EXPERIMENTAL RULESThe experimental rules for the early season games will not apply to any games after January 1, 2006. First, the three-point line will be extended by one foot to 20'9. Second, the free throw lane will be widened from 13 feet to 14 feet. Finally, there will be a restricted arc area three feet from the basket. These experimental rules will be watched closely by the NCAA and scrutinized by college coaches to determine if they will help the college game.
The extension of the three-point line is not a matter of "if," but "when." The NCAA contends that most college coaches agree that the line should be moved back. According to data collected during the 2004 early season, moving the three-point line back one foot did not significantly impact three-point attempts, makes, or percentage. What it may do is prevent frontcourt players with a marginal jump shot from wandering out into Threeland, and that is a good thing. It would be interesting to see if better three-point shooters take a higher percentage of shots with the line moved back. Hopefully, the NCAA can provide us with that data at some point.
Widening the lane in 2004 also did not elicit significant changes in the NCAA's measured statistics. The percentage of offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, foul calls, and three-second violations remained consistent with the random sample of games evaluated during the regular season under the current rules. If this keeps glacial big men from camping out in the post for a fortnight, then this rule could help open the post a bit.
The restricted arc experiment will be interesting to watch. There are potential problems lurking with this one. In an article about the experimental changes to the three-point line and the widening of the lane, the NCAA reported that 65% of participating coaches were either "greatly or somewhat in favor of the change." Support for the restricted arc was conspicuously absent from the article. I am willing to take a wait and see approach until January 1, but I will revisit this after the experimental period is over.
I think the game would benefit from a couple of other rules changes. First, the NCAA should ponder an anti-flying-out-of-bounds-while-calling-timeout rule. Players should have one foot on the court of play when calling timeout. No more diving into the stands and calling timeout as the player spills someone's $4 drink in the third row. If a player desires to save a ball going out of bounds, then the player should toss the ball back into the court of play. Actually, if timeouts were more valuable, this could possibly take care of itself. The fact that fans applaud when a player burns a timeout to save a ball from going out of bounds suggests that too many timeouts are available. Therefore, a reduction in timeouts might be another potential item for the NCAA to ponder. With four media timeouts per half and five timeouts available to each team during the course of a game, eighteen potential play stoppages exist. That is way too many. Making timeouts more valuable might help alleviate the flying-out-of-bounds-while-calling-timeout bonanza.
One final suggestion would be to replace technical fouls on ranting, raving, cursing coaches with a different type of punishment. "Coach Pitino, hold out your hand with your palms up!" A swift smack with a ping pong paddle might do wonders for bench decorum and respect for the game. Thanks, Ms. Nan.
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