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Men’s college basketball is something of a religion in America, and anyone who believes otherwise has never been around a fan — or a sports bar — during March Madness. Elaborate rituals, deeply held beliefs, and passionate involvement are commonplace, and like all religions that want to stand the test of time, occasional changes must be brought to bear. This season has some rule changes, and they’re affecting the game for players, officials, coaches, commentators, and fans.
For the fan, everything from buying the hottest new gear to flying halfway across the country to take in a Sweet 16 game is an act of devotion, and one essential way to be a good devotee is to always know what’s going on with the game and why. Here is a look at some of the rules that have changed this year in NCAA men’s basketball, as well as the reasons for the changes.
Fewer Timeouts Overall
The primary catalyst behind many of the changes to this year’s rulebook has to do with a desire to speed up the game for spectators at live events and for viewers watching television at home. To accomplish that end, the NCAA has lowered the number of timeouts each team has in the second half from four to three. While it may seem like a small move, the panel that made the changes hopes it will enable the ends of games to progress faster than a snail’s pace due to the flurry of timeouts and media breaks that used to occur.
Timeouts Called by Players Only — Sometimes
Another big change in the timeout category, during live balls only players on the court will be allowed to call timeouts. Until this season, a coach could call a timeout — so long as he had one to give — at any time. Now, coaches are only allowed to call timeouts in dead ball situations. This change ensures that referees don’t have to pay attention to benches during play, which will reduce confusion in loud arenas.
The End of the Double Timeout
Another change related to game flow and timeouts is the end of what has been known as the “double timeout” that would sometimes occur when a team called a timeout close to a scheduled media break. Now, if a team calls a timeout that’s within 30 seconds of a scheduled media break, then the team’s timeout counts as the scheduled break, which should enable the game to flow more reasonably and more quickly.
The Bigger Arc
The arc beneath the basket sat at three feet last year, and this season finds it extended yet another foot to four feet. The NCAA has shown renewed interest in reducing injuries — particularly head injuries — the past couple of years, and this rule change is in keeping with that effort. Data has shown that the larger arc reduces the number of collisions occurring around the basket, something that will inevitably mean fewer injuries.
Faster Substitutions and Starts
When a player fouls out of the game, teams now have only 15 seconds to make a substitution, whereas they used to get 20 seconds. Officials will also try and start play more quickly following timeouts. If teams lag in taking the court after a timeout, referees can give them a warning in regards to speeding things up. After an official warning, teams who are too slow to take the court will be charged with technicals every time they don’t comply. These changes, like so many on this list, are part of the effort to speed up the feel and flow of the game overall.
30-Second Shot Clock
The last time the shot clock in men’s NCAA basketball was reduced, Michael Jordan was playing for the Chicago Bulls. It was the 1993-1994 season, and the shot clock went from 45 seconds all the way down to 35.
This season finds the men’s shot clock in line with the amount of time the women have been working with for a while: 30 seconds. Again, the shot clock reduction is a change that’s been introduced in hopes of speeding up play and increasing scoring.
A change that might have made a big difference in the turnout of Kentucky’s Final Four loss to Wisconsin last season, officials are allowed to review made shots to ensure there wasn’t a shot clock violation. While this change won’t speed up play or increase scoring, it will satisfy fans’, players’, and coaches’ senses of justice, while also ensuring the game stays as fair as possible.
That’s a lot of change in store for this season’s men’s NCAA basketball, and hopefully, it will make for an even better fan experience.