Earlier today we examined the NCAA men’s basketball rules suggestions that stuck last week, and there’s merit for each and every one of them. Granted, there’s a much heavier emphasis on instant replay that threatens to extend the length of games and acceptability depends upon how much of a traditionalist you are regarding those little replay monitors. But they’re all in the interest of creating a fair game. Fortunately, the most talked about change (and the one that had zero interest in enhancing the accuracy of officiating) did not stick: shortening the shot clock.
It’s little wonder a shortened shot clock received significant attention – it’s what for-profit sports entertainment wanted. Yet a survey of coaches in Division I, II and III failed to bring consensus to the discussion, which was good enough to prevent a change. Don’t believe the large monied interests desired a different shot clock? Here’s the editor of ESPN.com’s Men’s College Basketball Blog waxing bitterness on how a 35-second shot clock destroyed the 2012-13 basketball season:
What we had instead was brutally low-scoring games, as the sport and its coaches continued their decades-long trend of sacrificing pace for efficiency, creativity for control.
-Eamonn Brennan, ESPN
The theory is that games have been lower-scoring because teams are using up more of the shot clock before attempting to run any plays, and it is ruining the game (think Wisconsin). To which I respond: seriously? This was one of the most exciting seasons I’ve ever experienced (and not just because K-State was so successful). On the national level, it was an absolute delight to follow. And the viewing audience agrees with me, as this year’s NCAA tournament averaged 10.7 million total viewers – up 11% from last year’s 9.6 million. It was the largest viewing audience since 1994 when the nation came together to root against Grant Hill and the rest of the Duke Blue Devils.
From ESPN’s perspective, it’s not that they’re not making money, they just want more of it. And I’m not proffering some grand conspiracy wherein ESPN’s executives have decided to push the Rules Committee to adjust the rules to make more money – they don’t have to. As a fan of “exciting” college basketball, Brennan will naturally promote a 24-second shot clock because the NCAA should apparently be doing everything it can to emulate the NBA. And his advocacy will naturally pay off for ESPN if the shot clock is shortened and scoring increases.
So where’s the harm, you ask? The longer shot clock allows teams the opportunity to set up plays and engage in team basketball rather than relying on quick scores from isolation plays. That’s right, team basketball. Yet there’s a more important aspect to consider, and that’s player well-being (oh no he didn’t just suggest that should be a consideration!).
Pushing the tempo results in players running the floor more and wearing out – a perfectly legitimate style of play. Yet forcing the issue guarantees that NCAA players will be left more exhausted at the end of the game. So students (yes, these are still students) forced to travel five states away on a Tuesday night, play a game, and travel back while also getting in their classwork are that much more stressed. Is taking 5-7 seconds off the shot clock nothing more than a marginal difference? Sure. But the point is ESPN’s primary concern is that college basketball should be more exciting at the expense of players being run more ragged. From an entertainment perspective, it’s a legitimate one. From a student’s perspective, it’s an absolute load of bull. And for once the NCAA ignored the deep pockets of CBS, ABC, et. al. and did the right thing.