NCAA Basketball Rules Changes: How the Game is Slowing Down to Increase Scoring

“Last season was terrible. It was an ugly season. We need to change the game. The one thing the coaches can’t do: They can’t gripe about it. The first six weeks will be a transition for the players as well as the coaches.” - Rick Pitino, head coach of reigning national champion Louisville

In 2012-13, the NCAA, on top of declining scoring averages over the last four seasons, experienced its lowest scoring average in a season--67.5 points per game--since 1981-82 when teams averaged just 67.6 points per game. In response to the declining averages, an NCAA committee was assembled last summer in hopes of instituting provisions to not only increase scoring, but also to make the game more exciting by allowing for more offensive freedom.

The game itself has seemed to be moving further away from the basket, especially due to the extension of the three-point line by a whole foot beginning in the 2008-09 season. In the years since the extension of the line and the perpetuation of more lax rules on defensive positioning and “hand checking,” teams have settled more for jump shots and less driving or solid post-up play. This combination favors defensive play and as a result, scoring has suffered. NCAA basketball would require drastic changes to the rules to reward players for the now declining skill of getting to the rim or developing a post game.

The committee came up with the following rule changes:

Under the revised block/charge call in men’s basketball, a defensive player is not permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has started his upward motion with the ball to attempt a field goal or pass. If the defensive player is not in legal guarding position by this time, it is a blocking foul.

Previously, a defender had to be in legal guarding position when the offensive player lifted off the floor.

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Photo courtesy of Billy Foshay/Gavel Media.

  • When a defensive player keeps a hand or forearm on an opponent;
  • When a defensive player puts two hands on an opponent;
  • When a defensive player continually jabs by extending his arm(s) and placing a hand or forearm on the opponent;
  • When a player uses an arm bar to impede the progress of an opponent.

“Don’t look at this as I’m blaming the officials, I thought they were very consistent the whole game. It's just way, way, way different,” said Boston College head coach Steve Donahue after the Eagles’ opening game loss at Providence this season in which there were 55 fouls called, 27 of which were called on BC. That’s a lot of fouls.

In past seasons many games have become dull due to lack of scoring, but the new rules have been met with sufficient controversy as to whether they take away from the flow of the game. In the early goings of this season, it seems to many, especially Coach Donahue after Providence, that there is a whistle almost every play. The new rules heavily favor the offense as “hand checking” is being completely wiped out of the vocabulary and refs are much more inclined to call blocking fouls.

Interestingly enough, and perhaps to the dismay of physical defenders, the rule changes are having the effect the NCAA desired: teams are scoring more points. Already through the first 8 games of the season, BC is averaging 78.3 points per game, 12 points more than last season’s average of 67.1 points per game. BC, like many teams beginning to get a feel for the rules, is attacking the basket more and being rewarded with more trips to the free throw line. The team is shooting 26.1 free throws per game, nearly 6 more than the 20.5 free throws per game of last season. BC is leading the nation in free throw shooting percentage at 82.3 percent.

In the past, defenders were relatively free to have their hands on the offensive player and to use their bodies more in dictating the pace of a player that may have been quicker. Now, the rules are pushing defenders back. A ball handler has the freedom to make a move and go to the goal without being pushed around by a physical defender; and the elite college basketball players are taking full advantage.

Standouts, such as Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and BC’s own Olivier Hanlan are being rewarded for their ability to attack the basket, and really for their ability to keep defenders off the ball with their large frames. The freshman forwards, Parker, 6’ 8”, and Randle, 6’ 9”, both averaging about 20 points per game, are shooting 5.7 and 9.4 free throws per game, respectively. The sophomore Hanlan, a big guard at 6’ 4”, also averaging close to 20 points per game, is shooting 8.3 free throws per game, up from his average of 5.1 free throws per game last year.

College basketball games have been less appealing in the starting weeks of the season. The rules have had the desired effect of increasing scoring, but you have to wonder at what cost. Teams are scoring more because they are shooting more free throws and the games do not seem to be flowing well. However, you can only hope that teams will adapt their style of play to the rules and the whistles will subside so we can stop talking about officials and get back to players deciding the outcome of the game.

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