Monday, February 18, 2013

An Easy Fix That Proves The Game Ain't Broke

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up on the "crisis" in college basketball—namely, the idea that offense is too hard.

There are all sorts of proposals to fix this supposed problem. Some people want to go to a 30-second shot clock. This would create more possessions, but it could actually hurt offense by making it easier to play good defense. (It's easier to bear down for 30 seconds than it is to bear down for 35 seconds—just ask any Badgers opponent who's watched them get a wide-open look with two seconds on the shot clock.) So this is a questionable idea if your goal is to make the game more entertaining (unless you love the sound of the shot-clock buzzer and the clang of bricks bouncing off the back-iron..)

Some people want to crack down on physical play to open up the game, etc. This is fine in theory, but in practice what this means is lots of fouls called. And then more fouls called. That means a game that is riddled with interruptions gets even slower and more riddled with interruptions. And it means more free throws, the second-most boring scoring play in all of sports (behind the extra-point attempt). The hope is that coaches and players would adjust, so eventually we'd be left with a more open game without all the foul calls. Maybe. But it's much more likely that the referees will adjust by eventually just letting everyone get away with what they get away with now. It's no accident that we've reached this equilibrium, and it would take something quite extraordinary to get us out of it.

But I can think of some simple rule tweaks that we know would work to increase scoring in college basketball, and nobody seems to be talking about them. Here they are: adopt the NBA rules on traveling and continuation. We know those rules work would because they work in the NBA. A lot of people complain about the charge / block call in college basketball, but it's not a problem in the NBA because the offensive player can just take another step and go right around the defender.

I think I know the reason that no one wants to talk about making these rule changes in college ball. It's because those NBA rules are kind of a joke, and true fans of the game find them sort of repugnant. But  fiddling with the rules of a sport to make it more "entertaining" is, fundamentally, kind of a joke. You just can't do it without sacrificing core sporting values. This doesn't mean you can't do it—clearly you can change the rules of a sport to make it unfairly pro-offense, and I think it's pretty clear that in college basketball's case this would likely make the sport more popular. But this is a Faustian bargain. Unlike sportswriters, I don't make money off of college basketball, and stand to gain nothing if the game becomes more "entertaining" and popular among the philistines. So I am just fine with the status quo.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard people talk about taking the shot clock down to the NBA rule of 24 seconds. This is a horrible idea. If people think shortening the shot clock will create more scoring they may be right because it would create more possessions. As you mentioned, that's not all it will accomplish as shot clock violations and horrible misses will also increase, not to mention turnovers.
    The NBA is filled with ridiculous talent, and virtually every player on the court at any given time can get up a contested bad shot, and still make it. This is not so in college. The NBA is also filled with players who can handle the ball, even if they're 6'10". There are not enough good ball handlers in college, and with only 24 seconds possessions have to be rushed. That means more turnovers as players force passes. You can also say good bye to post up play. It often takes 2-3 tries to make a good post feed, and with less time there will be less chances to get the ball inside before a perimeter guy has to jack up a shot.
    I hope that rule change doesn't happen.