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Shot Clock May Shorten, But More Changes Are Needed

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No one wants college basketball to be unwatchable, but tepid changes won't do enough.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past decade, college basketball has slowed down a lot. The number of possessions per game has been dropping, and the rules committee is finally ready to try to do something about it:

Men's basketball is likely heading toward reducing its shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, NCAA rules committee chairman Rick Byrd told ESPN.com on Monday. ...

"I think it's fair to say the buzz about the game is that scoring in the 50s can be ugly," Byrd said. "There's a lot of talk about it -- more coverage than ever before. All of that has created acceptance from the coaches' side."

It's important to note that slow offenses don't necessarily mean ugly offenses. National runner up Wisconsin had one of the best offenses ever, but it was also one of the slowest paced in the country. That said, not many of the coaches who are slowing down the game are doing it for the sake of high efficiency as Bo Ryan does. Many are doing it to make up for talent deficiencies, to allow themselves to micromanage from the sidelines, or a number of other reasons that make the game less fluid and less watchable.

Shortening the shot clock by five seconds is unlikely to do much. Consider the worst case scenario where every possession uses up every second of the shot clock. With a 35-second clock and a 40-minute game, it comes out to 70 total possessions per game. If each team gets the same number of possessions, then that's 35 possessions per team. Shortening the shot clock by five seconds yields 80 possessions per game, or 40 per team.

Even the slowest paced teams in 2014-15 made it up to 57.5 possessions per 40 minutes. Shortening the shot clock by a mere five seconds probably won't make a ton of difference. Take it from Byrd:

Byrd said he was more in favor of keeping the shot clock at 35 seconds but added that in college basketball, there is a tendency to waste 15 seconds before there is an effort to score.

OK, so teams committed to a slow pace would just waste 10 seconds instead of 15 before actually running a play.

Fortunately, the shorter shot clock is likely going to be part of a package of changes. While it's too late to change the width of the lane or the distance of the three-point line—schools on all levels need more lead time than a rule change in May, according to Byrd—we could get some other things:

Byrd said he does expect the block/charge arc to go from 3 to 4 feet to be in line with the NBA. ...

Byrd said coaches have told him the game is too physical and too rough. He said that will come up quite a bit in the meeting.

Byrd also said there will be discussion about altering the timeout rule to create better flow. He said he would like to mimic the rule in women's basketball where if a coach calls a timeout within 30 seconds of a media timeout, then that becomes the TV timeout.

He said too often coaches will call a timeout, knowing they are getting a media timeout 15 seconds later, and that creates an even longer downtime for the fans in the stands and the TV audience.

"You can have the last few minutes take 20 minutes," Byrd said. "It doesn't bother coaches, but it does for those watching at home and in the arena. We need to try to get the games within two-hour windows."

I love seeing a player make an effort to draw a charge as much as anyone, but things have gone overboard in college basketball in that regard. Part of the stagnant offense issue is that the ease of drawing charges discourages players from attacking the basket. The charge call exists to prevent offensive players from endangering defenders by getting out of control, but the way things have gotten, that rationale has little to do with the proliferation of charges.

As far as making the game better to watch, bringing down the physicality will help. Fouls stop the clock and break the rhythm of the game, and while physicality can make football more fun to watch, basketball is based on being more free flowing. The post-Jordan NBA lost its way in no small part due to several teams trying to turn games into controlled brawls, and we've seen a lite version of that in some corners of college basketball.

Finally, reducing the number of timeouts per game will speed things up. The behavior Byrd describes is another part of coaches wanting to micromanage—the more breaks in play, the more they can tell players directly what to do rather than trust them to run a system—and so micromanagers do the rational thing by trying to maximize the breaks in play. I can't see why the women's basketball rule on timeouts can't become a part of the men's game too.

We've talked plenty of times around here why college basketball's regular season struggles due to the all-encompassing importance (and largeness) of the tournament at the end. Coaches driving games to be both longer and less fun to watch only hurts it even more. College basketball can't thrive without people being interested in watching it, and so rule changes that make it more fun to watch need to come.

A lot of the focus right now is on the proposal for a shorter shot clock, but it alone isn't enough. Fortunately Byrd and the rest of the rules committee seem to know that and are planning to implement a larger package of changes.

UPDATE

Here are some specific rule proposals that sound good to me.