'Tis the Season for Rule Changes

USA TODAY Sports

With the offseason in full swing the NCAA is neck deep into the annual ritual of adjusting the rules which govern college basketball.

The first notable change concerns moving the start of practice for college basketball teams back two weeks.

Via the NCAA

Men’s basketball teams will be allowed to begin their first practice – celebrated at many schools with Midnight Madness events – up to two weeks earlier than in the past, starting this fall. The proposal was finalized at the close of the Division I Board of Directors meeting Thursday.

Last month, the Legislative Council amended and approved the long-tabled measure that will allow men’s basketball teams to conduct 30 days of practice in the six weeks before their first regular-season game. In the past, practice began roughly four weeks before the regular season.

A separate proposal that eliminated the requirement that the first practice begin no earlier than 5 p.m. on the first allowable day was also adopted.

The rule change brings the men’s basketball practice start date closer to that of the women’s teams. Women’s basketball teams begin no earlier than 40 days before the first regular-season game, with a limit of 30 days of practice.

This change was inevitable given the schedule creep that has occurred in college basketball. For example, during UNC's 1993 season, the first game happened on December 1st or roughly six weeks after the start of practice. In fact throughout the 1980s and 1990s UNC routinely started playing official games in the third or even fourth week of November allotting at least a month or more of actual practice. The only exception was playing in the preseason NIT which, at that time, truly was "preseason." Even up until a few years ago, North Carolina's first game would come around November 19th or slightly later. However in 2007 the schedule moved back and a few years after that it moved back again. Over the past four seasons UNC's first game has come on November 9th, 12th, 11th and 9th. It just so happened the two seasons with the November 9th start were also major rebuilding years when more preseason practice would have been really beneficial.

The decision to move the start of practice back is in a clear response to the schedule creeping backwards on the calendar. This resets the practice clock to where it used to be when coaches had 5-6 weeks before the first game rather than a little over three which was the case for North Carolina in 2010 and last year. Couple an earlier practice date with the eight summer workout days, the result should be improved basketball early in the season.

But that's not all! According to Jeff Goodman at CBS Sports, the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee has a whole docket of rule changes and new interpretations to unload on the world. None of them apparently pertain to changing the shot clock.

- The automatic flagrant fouls for the swinging of elbows will almost certainly be amended. The new rule will give referees a measure of discretion rather than it automatically being deemed a Flagrant 1 or Flagrant 2 foul depending on the nature of the elbow and whether excessive contact is made. Coaches could also be able to ask referees to go to the monitor to review flagrant foul calls.

- As is the case with the NBA, officials will be able to check replays at timeouts to determine whether a made shot is inside the arc or a 3-pointer. This would help the flow of the game. This would only apply in the first 36 minutes of the game.

- Referees will likely be able to go the monitor in the last two minutes of the game for more than just flagrant calls, whether it's a 3-pointer or whether the clock had expired. They would also be able to go in the final minutes to determine possession after a difficult call determine which player was the last to touch the ball.

- The block/charge call could be slightly altered in an effort to help the offensive player. Now the secondary defender needs to be in legal guarding position before the player leaves the ground. The new interpretation would be that the defender needs to be set before the offensive player begins the upward motion of his shot. "We feel this would help referees, and also reduce the number of charge calls," the source said.

- Instead of a full 35-second shot clock following a foul in the frontcourt, it will likely be reduced to somewhere between 20 and 25 seconds in an effort to create a few more possessions each game.

- In an effort to improve the game and make it more free-flowing, there will be emphasis placed on the current rules (on pages 109 and 110 of the rule book) regarding hand-checking and cutting. This was the case a couple years ago when the NCAA emphasized cutting down rough play in the post. The issue here is consistency since refs work different leagues and there is no one governing body that has any legitimate power over all the officials. NCAA director of officiating John Adams truly only controls who works the NCAA tournament, but has little to no juice over individual league

The concern with these rule changes is it creates more judgment calls for the officials and seems to empower them to use replay more which will only slow the game down. In fact there is at least a 75% chance Karl Hess read this article without any pants on. I can just see Hess going to the monitor ten times a game and still find a way to blow a block/charge call.

Speaking of that rule in particular, it is a move in the right direction to ensure defenders are not simply stepping in under a player who is already in the air or shooting the basketball. A defender who does that is not playing defense but rather taking advantage of a loophole in the rule. Putting an emphasis on handchecking and bumping cutters is also a good idea. However, as Goodman points out, such adjustments are meaningless given the lack of consistency across the various conferences. The NCAA has no direct control of the officials during the regular season. That lack of control means no one is really being held to a standard. The accountability lies with the individual conferences who will only go so far in terms of ensuring their officials maintain certain standards.

While the shot clock is not being addressed directly, the notion that a foul in the frontcourt will not result in the full reset of the clock is a great idea. It is a reward to the defense to some extent, especially for fouls committed with 10 seconds or less. Most front court possessions don't truly start until the 25 second mark given the time it takes to get across halfcourt and get into the offensive set. Not affording the full 35 in the case of a foul makes perfect sense.

With the exception of the early practice rule, none of these are official yet but could be after the committee meets Wednesday and Thursday.

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