I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret: College basketball is in trouble – at least the regular season is. But if the NCAA is smart, they’ll do what’s needed to improve the game by reducing the 35-second shot clock. – Jim Weber
It’s the last week of February and all eyes right now should be on college basketball. This is when teams desperately make their cases for the NCAA Tournament and the media spends almost an entire month breaking down the “bubble watch.” And yet, despite a crazy weekend of college hoops in which the top four ranked teams all lost, college basketball is barely a blip on the radar right now.
Instead, this past weekend was full of Blake Griffin dunk highlights, Carmelo Anthony trade talk and clips of the completely irrelevant NBA All-Star Game.
It appears that college basketball has become nothing more than the NCAA Tournament in the eyes of the public so it’s no wonder the NCAA tried to expand to a 96-team field.
Consider this: Last year, it was reported that attendance during the regular season hit a 23-year low. While attendance numbers are not in yet, TV ratings have fallen off a cliff for the 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, ratings for the NBA are up 30 percent this season because of the momentum generated this offseason.
There are a lot of things the NCAA can’t control when it comes to ratings and attendance.
Number one, they can’t stop the horrible decisions college kids are making by going pro too soon and leaving the college talent pool extremely shallow.
It’s not so much the one-and-dones that have crippled the talent level in college hoops (at least not directly), as players like Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James never even went to college. But the NBA age limit seems to have changed the mindset of all college players because now everyone seems to think they are immediately ready for the NBA. Guys that had no business turning pro last year (i.e. Avery Bradley, Craig Brackins, Daniel Orton, Darrington Hopson, Solomon Alabi, A.J. Ogilvy, Courtney Fortson) have all been complete non-factors in the NBA this season – if they are even in the NBA – instead of helping their old schools.
And college basketball also just got unlucky this year. Since the one-and-done rule was instituted, superstar underclassmen have always risen to the top to become must-see players (Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in ’07, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley in ’08, Blake Griffin in ’09, Kentucky’s entire team in ‘10), but that hasn’t happened this year. Sure, Jared Sullinger is in the Player of the Year discussion, but watching him execute a perfect post move or pass out of a double-team doesn’t make you pick up the remote control. The one freshman that looked like he was going to take the nation by storm, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, hasn’t played since the beginning of December.
If you want an idea of just how bleak the talent level in college hoops currently is, just compare the No. 1 team in America right now, Duke, vs. the 2001 national champion Blue Devils. That team was loaded with NBA talent like Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier, Dahntay Jones and Chris Duhon. Now? The only Duke player aside Irving that will even make a dent in the NBA is Nolan Smith, who might not even go in the first round of this June’s draft.
The third thing the NCAA can’t control is that the only “must see” player in college hoops, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, isn’t seen by most of the country because the school’s TV contract that doesn’t have him shown on ESPN.
It’s clear that the NCAA Tournament is still huge business after the NCAA reached a $10.8 billion TV deal last year. But just how much are CBS and ESPN going to pony up for regular season games if attendance and ratings continue to slip for games that are becoming the equivalent of exhibition contests every time the tournament expands?
One thing the NCAA can control is the way the game is played. While the NBA has been widely panned for constantly changing rules over the last two decades that have done everything short of completely banning defense in order to increase scoring in the league, commissioner David Stern is a shrewd businessman and any complaints still voiced by critics are currently being drowned out by the sound of cash registers.
It’s not rocket science that sports fans like to see constant action and the ball go through the hoop.
Now I’m not suggesting the NCAA tries to become the NBA by eliminating zone defense and the like. But it’s finally time to cut down the 35-second shot clock.
Now, college basketball (and the NCAA in general) has been tremendously slow in instituting necessary changes to improve the game. After the shot clock debuted in the NBA in 1954, it wasn’t added to college basketball for over 30 years. And after the NBA started using a 3-point line in 1979, it took another seven years for the NCAA to add it to the college game.
But after reducing the shot clock from 45 seconds to 35 seconds for the 1993-94 season, it’s remained unchanged in college basketball for nearly two decades. This is despite the fact that women’s college basketball has a 30-second shot clock.
With the combination of a grossly excessive shot clock and inferior talent this season, regular season basketball has become unbearable to watch at times. Take, for example, Saturday’s game between North Carolina and Boston College aired on ESPN. Yes, both teams couldn’t have hit a lake with their shots. But there’s no excuse for a college basketball game to be in the 40s, which happened when BC bled the clock to try and neutralize Carolina’s athleticism.
Or how about Saturday’s St. John’s-Pittsburgh thriller? Yes, it was a great finish with Dwight Hardy’s lay-up in the final seconds. Let’s just hope you didn’t fall asleep in the middle of it. St. John’s and Pitt combined for a total of 86 shots. Granted, there are more minutes in an NBA game, but that’s about what a high-paced team like the Knicks or Warriors attempts in one game alone. A reduced shot clock would force players and teams to put the ball up more.
College players would love the idea. Ohio State’s Evan Turner even said if he could change one thing about college hoops, he’d use a 24-second shot clock to make the game more exciting. Players aren’t the only ones that want change. A couple years ago, Conference USA even flirted with the idea of going to a 30-second shot clock for conference games.
Yes, a switch to a reduced second shot clock would bring howls from coaches that run the Princeton offense like John Thompson III, who will say the NCAA is punishing their style of play that probes a defense for the full 35 seconds before getting the best shot possible. And defensive-minded coaches like Pitt’s Jamie Dixon will say that the rule is ruining the game by punishing those who emphasize good defense.
Guess what: People said the 3-point line was going to ruin the game too. How’d that turn out?
I’ve seen it too many times in college basketball where a point guard walks the ball up the court for 10 seconds, followed by the team aimlessly passing it around the perimeter for another 15 seconds until they really try and attack the basket. If NBA teams like the Knicks install a “seven seconds or less” policy on shooting, needing 35 seconds to shoot is just ridiculous.
And of course, the highest-tempo conference in the country, the Pac-10, is rarely on national television.
While I’d prefer the NCAA going to a 24-second shot clock, it would at least be a start if they instituted a 30-second clock like the women.
A reduced shot clock would also benefit the end of games. With a 35-second shot clock, it’s incredibly difficult for trailing teams to come back because they’re aren’t enough possessions to do so. Therefore, NCAA games turn into hack-a-thons long before NBA games do. It falsely inflates the point total of games while greatly diminishing the product on the court.
The NCAA even admitted in The New York Times last year that there hadn’t been a meeting in the previous four or five years where the foul fest at the end of games hadn’t been discussed. People have discussed the idea of shortening the short clock just for the end of games, but how do you think that goes over? After all, no coach wants to be penalized just for having the lead.
So there you have it. A reduced shot clock immediately solves not one, but two major problems solving the game today: The snail’s pace at which many college games operate and eyesore the end of games often become.
A complete no-brainer, right?
Great. So you can expect the NCAA to actually adopt this change in about 10 years.
Jim Weber is the president and founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each week.