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Column: Rule changes marring NCAA basketball

staff writer

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 00:12

Calvin Makelky

Utah Statesman

It’s a tally that reached 73 fouls and 102 free throws. No, that’s not the number of fouls Lebron James has drawn and amount of free throws he’s taken from preferential treatment, but a result of a recent NCAA basketball game between Niagara and Seton Hall.

And no, I’m not kidding. The game was only 11 fouls short of the record for fouls in a game set way back in 1953.

Although it may be a bit of an outlier, it represents a trend going on in college basketball this year. So what’s the cause of these whistle-filled games? New rule changes implemented by the NCAA are the culprit, which are consequently slowing down and taking the physicality out of the game.

NCAA’s rule changes for this season include cracking down on hand-checking, arm bars and altering the basis for a charge to call to where it’s now rare to see a charge taken in a game — think of the BYU-USU game this year.

What brought about these new rules? Scoring. After the scoring average for a team dropped to 67.5 points per game last year, the lowest since the 1981-82 season, the NCAA rules committee understandably wanted to make games more fun and higher scoring.

But just like with prohibition, sometimes good intentions have a negative effect.

At first glance, you would think they are succeeding with scoring having increased 4.5 points per game so far this year. However, upon further inspection, nearly three more fouls and nine more free throws per game on average accompany this uptick. In addition, tempo has only increased by one possession per team. Therefore, almost all of the scoring increase can be accounted for in the increase in fouls.

So instead of making the game more fun to watch, it is actually making the game a more foul-filled, free-throw happy game which nobody enjoys watching.

We are going to see less of those hard-fought games in the range of 60 points, but more games in the 80s and 90s that will have less tempo, more fouls and drag on for more than three hours. These longer games gives the NCAA more opportunity to commercialize the game like the NBA.

These rule changes really have an impact on how teams play the game now as defenses have to adjust to them. Shaka Smart’s vaunted “havoc” defense at VCU and Rick Pitino’s in-your-face pressure defense at Louisville that has led these teams in March may become a thing of the past, as teams can no longer afford to be physical anymore if it means the other team gets a foul every time.

The NBA had a similar rule changes back in 2005, which has helped the growing demise of defense in the NBA, to where defensive effort has gone all but extinct — insert Amare Stoudemire and James Harden here. Now the word “defense” is mentioned more often as a punch line than in the NBA.

Scoring should not come easy, but with these new rules, teams like BYU with athletic slashing guards become hard to stop because they cut to the basket and dribble into the lane so much.

This leaves the defenders with little options because almost anything they do results in a foul. These new rules “sissy-fy” the sport just like the NFL is currently doing by giving offenses the advantage, making NCAA basketball a lot less enjoyable to watch.

The new rules have had their proponents and naysayers. The new head coach at Colorado State, Larry Eustachy, hates the new emphasis made by the rule changes.

"What are we thinking, trying to put players in situations where they can be eliminated even more?" he said at the Mountain West Conference’s media day. "If you pay to go see Celine Dion, she's not going to be fouled out at intermission.”

Then there are people like college basketball analyst Jay Bilas who love the new rules and think they will make the game better with more free-flowing play and athleticism. Yet the constant stream of whistles and parade of free throws that accompany the new rules makes the game less free-flowing and less enjoyable.

Putting the game even more in the referees’ hands is a terrible decision in my opinion.

Instead of making offenses earn their points, they can drive like a mad man whenever they want and be assured of either scoring or getting fouled on the drive to the bucket. So please NCAA, don’t turn college basketball into the NBA, because your good intentions are failing miserably.

–Calvin Makelky is a freshman studying statistics. He is a diehard sports enthusiast who hopes to be a statistical analyst for a pro sports team someday. Follow him on Twitter @makelky and send any comments to him at cmakelky@gmail.com. 

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