The NCAA men's basketball rules committee is convening over the next three days in Indianapolis to review 13 possible rule changes. A few are expected to be formally recommended by week's end, and if they officially pass in June, said rules would be on the books for next season.
I've detailed below what rules are up for debate.
This week's agenda was effectively set earlier this year, when the NCAA sent out a rules survey to coaches, administrators, officials, commissioners and select media. The results of that survey will help guide deliberations over the next three days.
The rules committee has an opportunity to improve the sport's cosmetic appeal and streamline its end-of-game scenarios, which sometimes can become unacceptable slogfests that take five, 10, even 15 minutes longer than they should on account of a parade of timeouts and monitor reviews. There are a few potential revisions that are particularly interesting. The biggest game-changer up for consideration: a six-foul modification rule that is brazenly outside-the-box and, based on conversations I've had, polarizing.
The committee will do one of three things with these 13 items on its agenda: recommend a rule change, not recommend a rule change, or propose a two-year experimental period before taking next steps. How does that third one work? The NIT is the clinical trial, if you will. Two years worth of NIT play provides enough of a sample size for the rules committee to determine whether or not something should be adopted. (This is what happened in 2017, prior to the 3-point line getting officially extended in 2019.)
"The one thing I've learned about being on the rules committee, we've got to be very, very slow and cautious to make changes," Colorado coach Tad Boyle, the committee's chair, told CBS Sports. "I think the game is in pretty darn good shape. Any changes we make to the game, they have to be well thought out. We don't always know unintended consequences, and so many times when we're unsure, or let's say it's a 50/50 deal, we will use the NIT as a training ground."
While gameplay is in a better spot than 5-10 years ago, college basketball still has room to grow to be more appealing and contemporary. Based on conversations with people around the sport, here's my reading on where these possible rule changes stand heading into Wednesday. Keep in mind that things can change inside the meeting room.
Likely to be recommended
- Laptops, tablets allowed on the bench for coaching purposes only
- Tweak traveling interpretation to universally allow players to Euro step, use spin moves and step-backs
Unlikely to be recommended
- Widening the lane to 16 feet (currently 12 feet)
- Award possession to defense after a held-ball
- Eliminate 10-second backcourt rule
- Allow offensive team to decline free throws in final two minutes and overtime(s); opt for inbound instead
- Eliminate five-second closely guarded rule
- Allow instant replay on shot-clock violation in final two minutes/overtime on a missed shot
- Allow instant replay on basket interference/goaltending calls -- but only if/after an official calls the violation
Potential for two-year NIT trial period
- Two-timeout limit per team with under two minutes in regulation and throughout overtime(s)
- Eliminate offensive basket interference and use FIBA rule instead: ball is always live after it makes contact with the rim
Big debates await
- Introduce quasi quarters by resetting team fouls at 10-minute mark of each half. Begin double bonus on fifth foul within each 10-minute segment. This eliminates the one-and-one free throw
- Modified six-foul rule: player is allowed three fouls per half (would be disqualified if they committed four fouls in a half). However, a player can commit two or three first-half fouls and have as many four or three more to use for the remainder of the game, allowing for six total
"The six-foul rule is an interesting, out-of-the-box proposal that needs to be discussed and considered," Boyle said.
The six-foul item has the potential to be debated more than any other rule on the table. It's unconventional, but perhaps college basketball could use a little more of that spirit. There is a catch to the rule that threatens its lifespan beyond this week: Why should a player with zero first-half fouls then be limited to only four for the second half instead of full allotment?
An empirical truth: fans want the best players on the floor as much as possible. And there is an ongoing belief that, due to human nature, games are officiated differently in the final minutes vs. how they are early in a game. Any legislation that allows for college hoops to have its best players on the floor as much as possible is worth exploring.
The Big East infamously had a trial run with six fouls in league play in 1991-92. It's remembered as failure by many who witnessed it. More fouls inherently can allow for more physical play, which can slow games down and rack up trips to the free throw line -- extending the game in the process. That's not what anyone wants. Boyle was sure to note this, saying, "We don't want to make any more rules that cause any more trips to the monitor. We don't want to make any more rules that extend the game."
By Friday we will know the committee's recommendations and we will know which rules will require further consideration via NIT experimentation. Data is the most important factor, and the NIT provides it. In a normal year the NIT has 31 games and at least 1,240 minutes, meaning the rules committee will get 62 games and approximately 2,300 minutes to see the rules in trial.
"If it's 50/50 with coaches on a deal and the officials are 90/10, then we'll know this needs to be considered and addressed, or vice versa," Boyle said. "I balance my own opinion with the way the committee decides to go with the data. The data needs to be looked at."
End-of-game protocol is an obvious area that needs repair. Reducing timeouts is something coaches, generally, don't want to give up. But it's something the general fan -- and, ahem, a media member or 70 -- would like to see happen. There are still too many stoppages in the closing minutes of games. Boyle doesn't fight back here. He said the two-timeout-limit rule proposal is the kind of rule change that makes logical sense to test in the NIT first.
"Let's take the game the way it is now and let's take an average time on your watch, how long does it take on average for the last four minutes of a game, or two minutes of a game?" Boyle said "Take that data and say, OK, how much will we save if we institute this rule, and do we have that data? ... And maybe we save three minutes per game, that's significant. We save 30 seconds per game? That's really not significant. Opinions only go so far. We have to be data-driven."
The FIBA rule on basket interference is also one that seems a practical change. Will the parties in the room in Indianapolis this week agree that men's basketball is ready for this?
"A perfect example of: wow, this is an interesting rule," Boyle said. "If you look at it from an officials' standpoint, it makes their lives easier. If you look at it from a fan's perspective, it's probably a pretty exciting play for the game. But what effect does it have on the game for scoring, for players being able to adjust to it? This only has to do with scoring. Either you're going to deny a team from scoring or you're going to tip-dunk it and it's a good play."
Why quarters aren't coming to men's college hoops
Another eye-catching proposal is the one that resets team fouls to zero at the 10-minute mark of each half, creating ersatz quarters. If you're asking, Why don't they just go to quarters? Every other level of basketball uses quarters.
The reason is TV contracts.
Men's college basketball is broadcast by many networks and none of the contracts' expiration dates align in a concurrent timeline the way the recently signed NFL deal works across all networks. (The existence of conferences compound the dilemma.) Because TV networks make money off college basketball games through television ads, there is a structure in place for commercials in each half at the first whistle under 16:00, 12:00, 8:00 and 4:00. To change the structure of the game you'd need television partners to agree and rework their contracts simultaneously.
Multiple sources said it's not financially feasible to change this right now because the contracts already build in advertising fees based on the current game template. This is a knot that can't be untied given the current media environment, with more than 2,000 games broadcast on traditional television each season.
I was also told research conducted in recent years postulated that a men's college basketball game would, on average, take seven minutes longer to complete if it went to four quarters. The current average is just about two hours, and TV windows are often built around that construct. College basketball brass has no interest in intentionally lengthening games.
So if you're hoping for quarters, that seems like something that's at least a generation away.
A final note on process. The rules committee can only officially recommend rules changes. When that happens Friday, the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) then takes the recommendations and vets them for two weeks. PROP, which is comprised of high-level administrators from across the country, has the power to strike down any recommendations. It also holds all the power to ratify them officially into action. That will happen come June.