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2015 men’s basketball changes sent game in right direction

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel at a meeting at the 2016 NCAA Convention. Jamie Schwaberow / NCAA Photos

When the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee gathered in May 2015, it knew the game needed some help.

Greg Johnson

The previous season had seen scoring in Division I men’s games dip to a near-historic low of 67.6 points per game. The offense-defense balance was tilting, and the pace of play had dulled. The men’s basketball community, media and fans were calling for change.

I have worked at the NCAA for 14 years and cover the playing rules committees. This meeting stands out because, no matter what the committee did, scrutiny was going to be high. Despite all the opinions, the decisions were up to the 12 voting members who gathered on the ground floor of the NCAA national office.

The tone of the meeting was set by then-chair Rick Byrd, longtime coach at Belmont. His instructions were clear: Focus on what is best for the game. Leave thoughts about what benefits you as an individual outside the room.

The atmosphere was serious but sprinkled with enough humor to keep the agenda moving. The committee members listened to one another respectfully. Of all the rules meetings I’ve attended, this was the best-conducted, especially considering the pressure on the committee.

At the end of the three-day meeting, the committee adopted a package of proposals designed to increase the pace of play, reduce physicality and seek a better balance of offense and defense. Rules proposals called for more freedom of movement for players away from the ball and called on officials to better protect players who were dribbling or shooting. Reducing physicality in post play, defining what constitutes a legal screen, extending the restricted-area arc in the paint and reducing the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds were other proposals.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the changes the next month, and the immediate impact was seen that fall: In 2015-16, scoring increased by almost 6 points a game, an increase that has remained steady.

Greg Johnson is a Champion associate editor.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.