After a season in which the sport's biggest storyline might have been how to fix everything that's wrong with it, college basketball's rule committee is understandably feeling considerable pressure to show the sporting public that it can change. That quest for change began Tuesday when the committee's annual offseason meetings kicked off in Indianapolis.
The biggest and most hotly contested issue being discussed in Indy is the proposed changing of the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, a proposal that most expect to pass and be instituted for the 2015-16 season. It's a change of which a majority coaches seem to be in favor, media members seem to be rallying against, and on which fans seem to be fairly split.
The 30-second shot clock was utilized in March during the NIT, CBI and CIT tournaments, and the numbers that resulted were fairly predictable. The average number of possessions per game rose slightly, shooting percentages dipped slightly, and overall scoring rose by about 1 point per game. An improvement, yes, but certainly not a change that could "save" college basketball or even one worthy of being on the frontline of the effort to do so.
The one constant when it comes to the shot clock debate appears to be that everyone has an opinion on the matter. So why do people seem to care so much about this seemingly insignificant rule change?
The reason for all the hubbub surrounding the shot clock probably has as much to do the rule's notoriety as just about anything else. Everyone knows that you get 35 seconds to attempt a shot in college and 24 to do the same thing in the NBA because it's something fans have to pay attention to on every single possession. It's like the NFL changing the yardage necessary for a first down from 10 to 11 ... at least in terms of it being a change to a rule everyone knows and everyone would have an opinion about.
The rules committee took on a far more noble endeavor in 2013-14, when they made significant alterations to the block/charge call as well as what does and does not constitute a defensive foul. The goal was to create more freedom of movement and increase scoring. The second of those was checkpoints was achieved, as scoring rose from the historic low of 67.5 points per team from the previous season to 71.0 points per team. Unfortunately, the bulk of that increase in scoring came from the free throw line, as teams didn't change the way they were defending even after being whistled for bundles of fouls each night out. The cries of discontent from home crowds across the country were so loud and so consistent that officials had all but abandoned enforcing the new rules by the time February rolled around.
After the 2013-14 season, the rules committee officially reversed course and abandoned its attempt to limit defensive contact and curtail the "everything's a charge" culture. The result? Scoring dipped right back to where it had been two seasons prior and complaints about the state of the game rose to an all-time high. And now, here we are, arguing over what changes we think can improve the game with an extreme emphasis on the shot clock debate.
If the goal is to improve scoring and make the game easier to watch, then widening the lane and moving the three-point line back are the changes that deserve the level of attention the shot clock debate is receiving. Each of those alterations would create more space on the floor and allow the offensive skills of college basketball's most talented players to shine more brightly. That's not to say that the shot clock debate is meaningless, it's just not nearly as impactful as the amount of attention it's receiving would make it seem to be.
The move to 30 second possessions is going to happen, and there will be an effect (say, 1 point's worth), but it won't improve the game significantly if it's the only change.
Two years ago, college basketball's rules committee attempted to curtail the sport's offensive problems in one fell swoop, and then tucked its tail and reversed course the moment there was some pushback. The new plan of attack would seem to be to chip away at the sport's flaws with smaller changes. If that's the case then reducing the shot clock is as good a place to start as any, but if the committee rests after completing that task alone and hopes to see immediate results, then the only major result is going to be more disappointment.