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Know your college basketball rule changes for 2016-17

This year’s rule changes are relatively minor, but you’d better know them before the season starts.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Texas A&M Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee meets and suggests changes to the rule book, as well as “interpretations” and “points of emphasis.” What do these mean, and what are the relevant changes for the 2016-17 season?

The NCAA issued a helpful video about changes for the coming season, which you can view below, and I’ll have some commentary about the changes as well.

A minor tweak to the “live ball timeouts” rule

Last year, the Rules Committee changed the rules regarding timeouts, forbidding coaches from calling a timeout during a live-ball situation. This meant that, while the ball is in play, only the players on the floor could call a timeout.

The NCAA slightly tweaked that rule for 2016-17, allowing coaches to call a timeout during an inbounds play. Last year, once the officials began the five-second count, a coach could not call a timeout. For the coming year, coaches still can’t call a timeout once the ball is inbounded, but they can now call a timeout while the ball is out of bounds. This means that a coach can call a timeout if his team is about to incur a five-second violation.

It’s a minor change, but now coaches don’t have to depend on their players to avoid getting a five-second call.

Interpretation of the “restricted arc” rule for players attempting to block a shot

The Rules Committee also issued an “interpretation” regarding the restricted area inside the lane.

An “interpretation” means that the committee is clarifying a previous rule that might not have been clear. In this instance, the interpretation concerns the restricted arc. Under the previous rules, a defender inside the restricted arc could not take a charge and any contact with an offensive player would result in a blocking foul being called.

Now, so long as the defender maintains verticality (meaning he jumps straight up and holds his arms straight up in an attempt to block a shot), that defender will not be called for a blocking foul even if he is inside the restricted area. This interpretation effectively prevents an offensive player from picking up a cheap foul by leaning into a shot blocker who leapt from inside the restricted arc. But a defender who remains grounded is still subject to the rules concerning the restricted arc. So, too, is a defender who leaps out toward an offensive player, or who extends his arms parallel to the floor (Note: if you’re a stickler for the rulebook, this kind of play is also a blocking foul if the defender is outside the restricted arc).

The “vertical cylinder”

Another rule interpretation concerns the “vertical cylinder,” or in layman’s terms a player’s personal space. So long as an offensive player’s forearms are more vertical than horizontal, he can freely move the ball from one side of his body to the other, and if a defender makes contact with him it’s a defensive foul so long as the offensive player’s contact is not excessive and unnecessary.

In recent years, defensive players had been (usually at the instruction of their coaches) been drawing cheap flagrant fouls by getting in an offensive player’s grill and drawing contact with the offensive player’s elbow when he tried to move (usually, there was an egregious flop in there.) Now, so long as the offensive player doesn’t make excessive contact — meaning, basically, so long as he doesn’t purposely knock the defender in the jaw with his elbow — and he’s making a normal basketball play, such contact is a defensive foul. However, if the offensive player’s forearms are horizontal to the ground and there’s contact, it’s an offensive foul. This rule also goes the other way, as well, and prohibits an offensive player from invading the vertical cylinder of a defender who’s in proper position.

“Points of emphasis” on physical play and traveling

What are points of emphasis? They’re not really rule changes, but directives to enforce the rules that are already on the books. This year, the NCAA has issued points of emphasis regarding physicality on post play and rebounding, as well as “freedom of movement” regarding contact with cutters and illegal screens.

Weren’t these points of emphasis last year? Well, yes, and they still are. Think of it like a highway, where the speed limit is 65 miles per hour. But let’s say that the average driver is going 75 mph, and the local police department has gotten into the habit of only ticketing people who are going 80, even though going 75 (or even 70) is also against the law. So the police chief, or the NCAA in this case, issues a directive to his officers to start writing tickets for people going 70-75 mph.

What happens is that either drivers will adjust their behavior in reaction to increased enforcement — or they don’t, and traffic cops are left with the unappealing options of either writing a ton of speeding tickets or just going back to their old habits of only ticketing the most egregious offenders and letting the minor violations slide. It turns out that while a lot of fans and coaches didn’t like all the physical play in the game, they didn’t exactly like ballgames turning into foul-shooting contests with players getting disqualified left and right, either.

And if you watched the SEC last year, a frequent complaint was that the officiating just varied so much from game to game that it became annoyingly impossible to figure out how the game was going to be officiated on a nightly basis. One night, the refs would be the rough equivalent of cops ticketing people for going 66 in a 65; the next night, anything short of murder would be met with a shrug and a “let ‘em play.” The simplest fix to officiating in the game would be consistency.

A final point of emphasis has to do with traveling; all too often, players “reset” their feet when catching the ball without dribbling, and since this does create an advantage for the offense officials are instructed to call a travel.