The rules of the game have changed.
Most Bulldog fans have already noticed something different on the basketball court in John J. Lee Amphitheater this season. They aren’t seeing double vision at the three-point line, but rather a new line on the court, representing the new men’s three-point distance as decided by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee.
The decision was made back in May 2007, a little over 20 years after the NCAA’s original decision to introduce the three-point line in college basketball. While the change from 19 feet 9 inches to 20 feet 9 inches might not seem like a big deal —the NBA line is three feet farther back — most coaches began the season anticipating big ramifications throughout the college game.
The new three-point distance, which now matches the international distance, was originally intended to bring the college game closer to the style of international and professional basketball. Other motivations included improving floor spacing on the offensive end and discouraging average shooters from hoisting up three-point shots.
Now more than halfway into the season, the results have confirmed the dampening of the three-pointer. The Yale men’s basketball team shot 34.4 percent on three-pointers last year but is now only at 28.9 percent for this season. Of course, graduating three of the Bulldogs’ best three-point shooters last year biases these results, but the numbers still indicate the effect of the new three-point line.
Analyzing all of college basketball, the three-point shooting percentage has dipped down to 34.2 percent from 35.1 percent last year, the lowest shooting mark since 1997. While players may still be adjusting to the new distance, causing accuracy to decrease, the expected effect of lowering the amount of threes taken per game has not been seen (there has only been a slight decrease seen among teams across the nation).
Observing the changes on the court, Eli players have mixed opinions on the effect of the rule change. While center Garrett Fiddler ’11 said he had not noticed much of a difference in game play, forward Travis Pinick ’09 expressed enthusiasm for the change and its effects.
“I think it is a good change,” Pinick said. “The guys who shoot threes aren’t going to be affected by it, and it opens up the floor a lot more.”
Looking forward, the ever-changing evolution of the way the college game is played will likely continue to necessitate more rule changes. Comparatively, the NBA has tinkered with the rules for the past decade in an effort to reinvigorate the game after the low scoring doldrums of the late 1990’s, setting a precedent for the NCAA.
NBA changes during this period included decreasing the time in the backcourt from 10 seconds to eight seconds in an effort to increase pace, and instituting the defensive three second rule in place of the illegal defense violation in an effort to clear the lane for scoring drives to the basket.
When asked what changes they would make to college basketball to make the game better, Bulldogs on both the men’s and women’s teams came up with a number of different issues.
As the starting center for the Elis, Fiddler mentioned changing the rules on how post play is refereed.
“I wish officials would be more hesitant to call fouls on post-ups down low when guys are playing for position in the post,” Fiddler said. “They could let the guys go and it doesn’t affect the play that much.”
On the issue of whether to add a restricted zone to college basketball, opinions were mixed. The area refers to the semi-circle on NBA courts surrounding the basket. If players are outside the line, a charge can be called on the play; if a player is inside, a foul will be called on the defender. The current rules thus allow charges to be much more common in college basketball than in the NBA.
Pinick offered his support for instituting a restricted zone, while Fiddler offered a different opinion referring to the original purpose of the zone.
“I don’t think we should have a restricted zone,” Fiddler said. “In the NBA, a lot of the motivation comes from entertainment, so you’ll get more dunks with less guys stepping in there to take charges.”
Guard Yoyo Greenfield ’11 on the women’s team added a suggestion to alter how defensive hand checks are called while guarding players on the perimeter. This violation occurs when an offensive player is dribbling, makes a move, and the defender lays hands on that player. Such tight calling by referees on the perimeter, as Greenfield explained, leads to the majority of the fouls called on her during a game.
“The referees are constantly saying, ‘No hands, no hands,’ the whole game,” Greenfield said. “The referee came up to me and told me, ‘I don’t really want to call a hand check on you, because they are dumb fouls.’”
A last suggestion made by players for the men’s game would be to decrease the 35 second shot clock. Currently 11 seconds longer than the NBA’s, the long shot clock leads to long possessions on defense, which can subsequently wear down teams.
“I’m not a fan of these super long possessions; it shortens the game so much,” Pinick said. “[With a shortened shot clock], we would obviously have quicker shots, a lot more transitions, and more three point shots. Overall, I think it would be good for the game of basketball.”
In the end, it’s uncertain what the next change in college basketball will be. From instituting the trapezoidal lane of international basketball to enacting many of the Elis’ suggestions, whatever changes arise will be certain to have interesting effects for both the player and the fan to consider, as has been the case with the three-point line distance this year.