Monday, May 18, 2015

New Rule Changes Won't Stop The Whining

Jay Bilas still hates college basketball as much as he did last week.
The NCAA basketball rules committee announced some new rule recommendations on Friday which, while not officially new rules, will likely all be passed for next season. The most noticeable being the 30 second shot clock.

This gets a lot of press because the sport of college basketball is masochistic. The loudest voices in the sport love nothing more than bashing it. Jay Bilas will tell you multiple times in every game he calls, as well as every analyst panel he is on, as well as every newspaper that calls him, how the sport is unwatchable and dying and sucks in every possible way. And he's ESPN's lead college basketball announcer. Every newspaper, from the NY Times to the Washington Post writes annual articles decrying the death of the sport, all reciting the same talking points.

As I've described before, this whining about college basketball has been going on for at least 30 years now. Guys "can't shoot anymore" and "the game is too physical" and "too ugly" and the "NBA Draft is bleeding the college game of talent". Yeah, you'll read all of those phrases again next season, just like you read them in 1992. Nothing changes. It's a #narrative, so it's here to stay.

In general, there is a strong belief that casual sports fans like higher scoring sporting events than lower scoring sporting events. That's why football (both pro and college) as well as the NBA have changed rules to make it much harder to play defense and much easier to score. Yet can fans actually tell the difference?

It's easy to watch Ole Miss and BYU play a 94-90 game and be entertained while decrying Wyoming and San Diego State playing a 45-43 game, but the rule changes don't turn 45-43 games into 94-90 games. It's easy to show highlight packages making it seem like every game in 1981 was 94-90 while every game nowadays is 45-43, yet the reality is that over the last 35 years scoring has dropped in Division I college basketball from around 70-71 points per game to 66-67.

Is a drop of four or five points per game over 35 years noticeable? No. When there are thousands of games played every year, with wide fluctuations from team to team and game to game, it's simply impossible for the human brain to notice the difference. Even if scoring increases from 66 to 69 points per game next season, it's going to be so washed out by the 45-43 and 94-90 games that you won't be able to tell the difference.

The NIT, CBI and CIT experimented with a 30 second shot clock this past season, and I probably watched all or pieces of around 25-30 of those games. The most noticeable thing to me? I forgot that there was a 30 second shot clock. I never noticed it unless announcers pointed it out. I doubt you will either.

As for the other changes, such as the refs focusing on stopping physical play, the reality is that the game is probably less physical than it has ever been. The media simultaneously argues that the quality of college basketball is down due to NBA defections, that "AAU culture" means nobody knows fundamentals anymore, that nobody can shoot the ball anymore, and that defenses play more physically than ever before, yet somehow don't realize that this contradicts the fact that offensive efficiency has been steadily increasing for decades.
The fact is, college basketball is fine. Attendances are near all-time highs, and tv ratings were fantastic this past season. Jay Bilas, of course, tried to make excuses for college basketball's great tv ratings:
Bilas was then conspicuously silent when Kentucky was eliminated and the title game still hit an 18 year ratings high.

Do the new rule changes make the game worse? Probably not. I don't think any of the changes will be noticeable. And the game certainly could use a reduction in the number of timeouts (fans won't notice the 30 second shot clock, but they'll certainly notice the next time one of their games has seven tv commercials in the final sixty seconds). But as a whole, the game is healthier than ever, and better than ever. But if you believe that these rule changes will cause the media's opinion that the game is unwatchable and dying to change one iota, you'll quickly see the error in your ways.

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