Blowing the Whistle on NCAA Basketball Rule Changes

WNUR’s Jason Dorow (@jasondorow) examines the new rules in NCAA basketball and how they’re affecting play.

Northwestern isn’t the only school transitioning into a new era. The NCAA enacted new rules for the 2013-2014 season, forcing all college basketball teams to adjust to a different style of game. The new rules focus on defending the player with the ball and the difference between blocking and charging calls.

The block/charge call is perhaps the most difficult decision that basketball referees face. The NCAA has defined the rule more closely to assist its officials. In order to draw a charge, a defender must be in legal guarding position by the time an offensive player begins his upward motion to pass or shoot. Help side defenders will have to be quick to slide over and set themselves in position to be able to get the call.

The NCAA expects that this will create a greater timeframe for officials to watch the offense and defense and determine the proper call. The block/charge rule change has gotten a positive reception from officials, player, and coaches alike, who enjoy having a better definition of the rule.

New defending rules, specifically limits on hand checking, have not garnered such positivity from the basketball world. Defenders are restricted from keeping a hand or forearm on an opponent, using an arm bar to impede the progress of the dribbler, or placing two hands on an opponent.

Photo by Nam Y. Huh, AP

Photo by Nam Y. Huh, AP

The NCAA intended for these changes to create smoother game flow and enhance freedom of movement. So far, the effect has been quite the opposite. Officials are blowing the whistle on plays involving minimal contact, creating excessive stoppage of play, and fouls on the drive are only restricting movement toward the basket.

A November 9th matchup between Seton Hall and Niagara featured 73 fouls and 102 free throw attempts. Not all games are this extreme, but foul and free throw averages are both up from last year. According to KPI Sports, through Nov. 19, the typical contest included roughly 41 fouls (increase of 6), which would be the highest average since 1953-1954.

At first glance, this increase may not seem very significant. However, the games are noticeably choppier and longer. Ticky-tack calls have players and coaches shaking their heads. There’s far too much stop-and-go involved, and games are consistently lasting two hours or longer.

It’s great that the NCAA wants to promote proper on-ball defense, something often lacking from the NBA game. But they need to realize that basketball is a physical sport, and the game is not meant to be officiated the way it has been in the early going this season. After playing under the new rules, college players will be far from prepared for the physicality of the NBA.

Defenders shouldn’t be allowed to “jab” with their hand or forearm. Nor should they be able to impede a driving ball handler by using an arm bar. Defenders do deserve the right to maintain a legal position though, even if it involves using a hand or forearm.

Hopefully, for the sake of the sport and the players, college basketball will return to the physical sport that it’s meant to be. The NCAA needs to let ‘em play.

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