Two years ago, college basketball officials announced a plan to call more fouls and remove physical contact from the game. Low scores and overly aggressive defense had the sport trending in the wrong direction, and they wanted to change that by bringing back freedom of movement, similar to what is found in the NBA.
No more hand checks on the perimeter, no more shoving down low, good luck drawing a charge. It all sounded great — until the referees gave up on the plan.
Referees backed down when coaches complained, and physicality returned midway through the season. Nonconference games were dominated by fouls and free throws. Conference games were the opposite, with referees reverting back to their old ways.
This season is their shot at redemption. Officials once again promised change this year, vowing to eliminate physical contact and speed up play by reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds. The referees followed through during nonconference play and haven’t stopped during league games.
“What happened two years ago is, we only put part of this in play,” Curtis Shaw, the Big 12’s director of officiating, said Monday. “We only really talked about perimeter contact on the ball handler. By January, we had a couple rules interpretations and a couple issues that came down from the NCAA powers that really changed the focus. I think that was a great learning experience for everybody.”
Switching officiating styles midseason hurt the game. It confused players and coaches, and led to even lower scores last year. Instead of forcing players to adjust to a contact-free style, they allowed them to be more physical than ever.
There was no turning back this time.
The results have been mostly good. Scoring is up slightly compared with a year ago, and players are learning how to defend on the perimeter without contact. Eventually, Shaw hopes officials can clean up post play, as well. He wants the traditional box-out to return and for rebounding to once again be a matter of position and skill, not brute strength.
“We cannot stop,” Shaw said. “We have to understand there are going to be growing pains. We are going to get coaches who complain. We are going to get some nationally powerful coaches who complain. But this is for the good of the game. It is above any one coach or any one style of play. We have to continue with this this year. We grasped all of the things we need to change, not just one little point.
“We said up front, ‘We know this is going to be hard and people aren’t going to like it, but we have to do this this year and in years to come.’ We have had better leadership ,and it has helped us stay consistent throughout the year.”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett