College basketball, facing a groundswell of criticism for its slumberous product, is talking about picking up the pace.
Potential rules changes will be discussed in the coming days to move up the start of practice by two to three weeks and to shorten the shot clock by five seconds.
Reaction from coaches is largely positive. Most believe these reforms — along with other impending tweaks — could breathe life into a game coming off a season marred by the fewest points scored in more than half a century.
The NCAA board of directors will vote today on whether to move the start of practice to as early as Sept. 27 — 42 days prior to a team’s first contest. Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher cautioned against immediate change, saying he believes the board will be “hesitant to jump without gathering a healthy amount of feedback and data.”
A proposal to shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds from 35 will go to vote next week when the men’s basketball rules committee gathers in Indianapolis.
“I am in favor of it, and I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t pass,” said University of Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk, who also advocates moving up the start of practice.
ESPN.com conducted a survey last month of 37 D-I coaches, who responded strongly in favor of each proposed change. Twenty-eight said they would like to see the shot clock shortened, and 27 gave a thumbs up to moving up the start of practice. Coaches polled were from major and mid-major Division I programs.
Bowling Green State University’s Louis Orr is unconvinced, suggesting a shot clock that expires faster could further cause offensive numbers to suffer, the result of hasty possessions.
“The key is getting shots you can make,” Orr said. “You can shoot all you want, but if they are low-percentage shots, you are just giving the ball back quicker.”
Some believe efforts to speed up play ignores other culprits, ones they believe are more strongly linked to team scoring plummeting to 67.5 points per game — the lowest mark since 1951-52. Fouls called reached an all-time low, and teams shot fewer free throws than in any season since 1976.
Defining which acts of contact should warrant a foul is on the agenda for next week at the rules committee meeting.
“The game needs to be played at a faster pace, but it’s not just the shot clock that has to change,” Kowalczyk said. “I think freedom of movement has to be officiated better. There is way too much contact that’s allowed now. We’ve gotten away from a finesse game of basketball. Now it’s nothing but brute strength. That needs to change.”
Kowalczyk theorizes that lower scoring is a product of declining offensive skills and believes today’s high school prospect is “more talented, but not more skilled.” The proliferation of AAU tournaments has resulted in players spending the majority of an offseason playing games rather than sharpening their craft.
“Summers used to be devoted to players spending time in the driveway, in the gym,” University of Findlay coach Charlie Ernst said. “Now kids are playing a tremendous amount of games.”
Minus a moratorium on AAU events, freshmen figure to continue to arrive on campus unpolished. Therefore, the proposal to expedite the start of practice makes sense. The maximum number of allowable preseason practices would be unchanged under the new rule — capping at 30 — but coaches could avoid cramming by giving players days off.
Count Ernst among the proposal’s dissenters.
“My feeling is we have quite a bit of time already in the preseason,” Ernst said. “Basketball is a very long season."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.