The following article appears in the Fall 2019 edition of NABC Time-Out Magazine. To view the full Fall 2019 issue, click here.
College basketball will have a new look when the 2019-20 season tips off in November.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee and NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel passed a series of changes over the summer that will introduce some noticeable differences to the game – particularly on the offensive end.
Most significant was approval of moving the men’s three-point line to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches. The panel also enacted a rule that will reset the shot clock to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound in the front court.
The changes reflect a continuation of efforts to improve freedom of movement, increase offensive output and reduce physical play – goals routinely cited as priorities by coaches, officials and commentators alike. They follow years of feedback, data collection and trial runs using experimental rules in the postseason NIT.
“Rule changes don’t happen overnight,” said Colorado head coach Tad Boyle, who chairs the rules committee. “You have to look at the perspective of is it going to make the game better, and will it be a situation where officials have a clear directive?”
The rules committee is populated by administrators and coaches representing all three NCAA divisions. Joining Boyle as coaches on the committee are Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, Arkansas Fort Smith’s Jim Boone, Stevenson’s Gary Stewart, Chicago’s Mike McGrath and Illinois College’s Steve Schweer.
“The experience I’ve had on the rules committee has been remarkable in terms of the variety of constituencies involved in the decision-making process,” said McGrath, who also serves on the NABC Board of Directors. “I don’t know professionally that I’ve ever seen that kind of diversity and single-minded focus on what’s best for the game.”
The new three-point distance will go into effect this season for Division I, while Divisions II and III will adopt the rule in 2020-21 to account for the financial impact of updating courts.
In a press release announcing the rule changes, the NCAA cited three primary rationale behind extending the line: making the lane more available for dribble-drive plays, increasing offensive spacing and making the shot more challenging.
Three-point shooting volume has seen a steady increase over the past decade. Division I teams on average attempted 22.8 threes during the 2018-19 regular season, marking the fourth-straight year of setting a new all-time high for attempts. In 2008-09 – the last time the line was moved back – teams averaged just 18.3 attempts per game from long distance.
Accuracy has been on the rise as well. Division I programs have combined to shoot over 35-percent on threes in each of the past three seasons after previously eclipsing that mark just twice since 1994.
“The attraction to shooting three-pointers has increased tremendously as players have gotten more skilled,” said McGrath. “Making the shot more challenging will diversify the game.”
The growing reliance on three-point shooting can be traced to several recent trends within the game. Defenses like the pack line have made driving and interior play more difficult. Efficiency-based analytics that highlight the value of threes and layups are now commonplace at every level. The concept of positionless players has overtaken the NBA and is now beginning to penetrate college and high school gyms as well.
“A lot of it had to do with spacing, opening up the floor, giving players more room to operate,” Boyle said. “People are sagging in the lane. Post players have less room to operate. Now this will open it up for them.”
It was clear to the rules committee that now was the time for change.
“We felt like there was an overwhelming sentiment amongst coaches, officials and different stakeholders in college basketball that it would be the best thing for the game,” Boyle added.
Just how much of an impact the new distance will make remains to be seen. When the line was moved back a foot in 2008, three-point accuracy declined from 35.2-percent the year prior to 34.4-percent. Shooting would not top the 35-percent mark again until the 2016-17 season.
“The data from the NIT was relatively insignificant with the effect it had on the games,” said Boyle. “But the fact is that three-point shooters will be a foot and a half further from the basket, and the defenders guarding them will be a foot and a half further away.”
While McGrath and his Chicago staff have discussed how their systems might need to be tweaked to account for the deeper line, he cautions not to expect wholesale changes to how the game is played.
“If people emphasize shooting the three, they’re going to recruit players who can shoot. If they emphasize the post, I think they’re still going to do that. I don’t think you’re going to see dramatic differences in terms of style.”
Offensive flow was also cited as the motive behind adjusting the shot clock reset. Previously when a field goal attempt hit the rim and was rebounded by the offensive team, the shot clock would go back to the original 30 seconds – regardless of location on the floor. But the full reset isn’t necessary when the offensive rebound happens in the front court, the rules committee says, because the offense is already positioned to begin a new set.
In theory, a shorter shot clock will produce more possessions, which will produce more points. And increasing tempo and scoring, Boyle points out, remains a strategic objective for the sport.
“We want eyes on college basketball, and to get more eyes, it needs to be a game that people enjoy watching,” he added. “People enjoy more possessions.”
“It’s going to be a better game for our fans.”
Three additional low-key rule changes will also go into effect this season. Players will be assessed technical fouls for using derogatory language about an opponent’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. Coaches will be allowed to call live-ball timeouts in the last two minutes of the second half and the last two minutes of any overtime periods. And replay reviews will be permitted in the last two minutes if a basket interference or goaltending call has been made.
But expect the new three-point line to dominate the conversation, particularly early in the season as teams adjust. And get ready for a more compelling on-court product, says McGrath.
“I suspect this will continue to help move things in the right direction, which hopefully in the end makes the game more fun to play and more fun to watch.”