Luke DeCock

New college basketball rules a good step, but don’t go far enough

Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill, 13 is called for the foul as he charges into N.C. State’s Lennard Freeman 
 in the first half during N.C. State’s 69-53 victory over Virginia Tech on Feb. 21 at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill, 13 is called for the foul as he charges into N.C. State’s Lennard Freeman in the first half during N.C. State’s 69-53 victory over Virginia Tech on Feb. 21 at PNC Arena in Raleigh. ehyman@newsobserver.com

The 30-second shot clock isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with college basketball, and it may cause as many problems as it solves.

What’s important about that change, and the other new rules the NCAA approved earlier this month, is the willingness to address the slow pace of the college game compared to its NBA and international counterparts.

It’s a comprehensive and solid package of changes, some long overdue, that should improve the flow of the game, if nothing else. Hopefully this initiative, spearheaded by Belmont coach Rick Byrd, the chairman of the rules committee, will open the door to fixing the real problem with the college game: the perpetual bias toward the charge on block/charge calls.

Shortening the shot clock won’t address that issue, although it will encourage offenses to bring the ball up the floor more quickly and defenses to extend pressure farther down the court, perhaps at the cost of more off-balance heaves as the shot clock expires.

“We think it’s a part of the puzzle, just a piece that helps us get the game headed in the right direction,” Byrd said last month. “To us and to me, it’s really more about the officiating initiative and getting fouls called that affect the flow of our game that’s going to help that the most.”

It’s going to take more determination from Byrd and the other coaches to fix the block/charge issue, not to mention officials hard-wired to make that call a certain way. One of the new rules alludes to it, expanding the area under the basket where help defenders can’t draw a charge from 3 feet to 4 feet, but it’s a half-measure.

A bigger change is needed, a philosophical change in what’s perceived to be “good defense.” Jumping in the path of an offensive player isn’t a skill. It’s an impediment to attractive basketball. Yet that’s the way almost every team teaches help defense, and all the insipid charge calls only reward it. People around the NBA ritually mock college basketball’s self-defeating fetish for the offensive foul, even taking it into consideration when projecting college players’ pro potential.

Outgoing ACC officiating coordinator John Clougherty acknowledges the block/charge issue needs addressing, but he wants to see the expanded arc in action before going any further.

“It’s a significant difference,” Clougherty said. “It will be harder for a secondary defender to get out (in the lane) and therefore should cut down on the number of block/charges. That’s a very hard call for the officials sometimes, to pick up the secondary defender. Also, from a coach’s standpoint, I think that takes that secondary defender a long way from the basket, from a rebounding position. I’m not sure 3 feet was that significant.”

If the expanded arc doesn’t work, more drastic change will be needed. Start by rewriting the rulebook to add the NBA’s no-call codicil: “The mere fact that contact occurs on these type of plays, or any other similar play, does not necessarily mean that a personal foul has been committed.” That effectively gives the ballhandler the right of way to the basket. Legalize the no-call, so to speak, and not only will offense increase, but the flopping, diving and soccer-style pantomime will evaporate from college basketball.

That’s also going to take massive retraining of officials who, in their defense, need years of practice and experience to correctly make instant decisions on judgment calls like the block/charge. (An attempt to adjust the standard two years ago failed because officials couldn’t assimilate the changes.) But with the proper support from the new NCAA officiating regime and patience from the other stakeholders in the game, it’s very doable.

Fixing the continuing block/charge travesty would do a lot more to open up college basketball than any of the rule changes imposed this summer, even if they are a welcome step in the right direction.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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