Coaches already prepping for the worst with impending rule changes

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

College basketball will have a rule change greatly affecting its cosmetic and strategic DNA this season. The big alteration in question came into play in June, when the Playing Rules Oversight Panel voted to change the interpretation of what is a block and what is a charge in college basketball.

This might seem a bit boring to you right now, without games being played (but they're coming! Just two weeks to go!), but it's absolutely going to be a talking point and critical element of adjustment this season and for the sport as a whole as it moves forward. The philosophy behind the rule change is to a) protect players from themselves b) make the game less physical c) by making it less physical, allow for more scoring, which d) creates a better product to watch and resembles something closer to the spirit of what basketball was intended to be.

No longer can a defender duck in under a player with the ball after the player has begun to leave the ground for a dunk/layup. And it's not only blocks and charges. New protocol away from the hoop will be in play; defenders can no longer use their hand or forearm as leverage against an offensive opponent.

In general, it's a needed change. But players, coaches and fans are going to have some growing pains as we head into a season or two of acclimation. Expect a lot of fouls that seem ticky-tack. Inevitably, an abundance of whistles will induce boo showers on the regular.

In advance of this, coaches are already either groaning or uneased by the impending mucky play that could pollute the sport for a time. Take this account from the Kansas City Star as evidence:

"The games will be ugly, everyone will be unhappy about it," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said Tuesday during Big 12 men's basketball media day at the Sprint Center. ...
"It's not a guideline," (Big 12 officials supervisor Curtis) Shaw said. "They've moved it from the back of the rule book to the front. There is no judgment. If you do these things, it's a penalty."
The idea of the rule changes is to remove some rough-and-tumble play from college basketball, which had fallen to decade-low scoring totals last year. Some coaches believe scoring will increase, but not the way intended.
"Because we're shooting more free throws," Kansas' Bill Self said. "We may have some games where you can't go up and down twice without having stoppage because it's going to be a fragmented game in large part."

The other side of it? We could be seeing a lot more zone defense as a result. At least, that's what Texas' Rick Barnes posited.

I've casually spoken with a handful of coaches around the country about this, and there's definite uncertainty about how officials will interpret these rules. There's concern about consistency, and more than anything, the players currently in the college game are accustomed to playing defense a certain way. Redirecting those habits can't be done in an offseason.

So it's going to be bumpy -- pun intended -- to start this season. But in the long run, hard to see how this isn't better for college basketball. Look at what expanding offensive freedom has to the NFL. It's never been more popular at a time when it's never been so high-scoring.

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