Dorm Report: Picking up the pace

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Updated: 5/27/2014 8:29 am

Philadelphia, PA ( - Change comes slowly at the highest level of collegiate sports. The NCAA did not officially adopt the 3-point line until 1986, and it took 15 years for college football to finally install a playoff system.

The college game is once again taking its time in adapting to an era where speed is most valued by the consumer.

At the ACC spring meetings earlier this month, ACC commissioner John Swofford announced to reporters that the conference would be trying out a shorter shot clock during exhibition games.

The first shot clock was introduced for the 1985-86 season of college basketball, nearly 30 years after it was first made a part of the professional game. However, that first shot clock was nowhere close to the 24-second version used in the NBA, or even the 35-second form that is in practice today.

Teams were given a whopping 45 seconds to get down the floor, run their offense and get off a shot in that first season and every season until the 35- second shot clock rule took hold for the 1993-94 campaign.

Just a short 20 years later and the 35 seconds that has become commonplace may be slashed yet again.

With the quality of athletes that play basketball at the college level nowadays, speeding up the game could pay dividends both metaphorically and literally.

While basketball purists may bemoan the obvious emphasis a shorter shot clock puts on offense, it cannot be argued that the majority of fans enjoy seeing teams score more than execute fundamental bounce passes, or put together tough defensive stands.

The NCAA already made strides last season in opening up the offensive game. This was done by instituting rules that make hand-checking defensive maneuvers official infractions.

While the new rules certainly had an impact on the game, the desired effect of creating more possessions and offense did not necessarily occur. During the 2013-14 season, the average number of possessions per game for each team ranged from 60.6 by Miami-Florida to the national-leading 79.3 put up by Northwestern State. In the previous year, those numbers went from 59.1 to 76.0.

While there was a slight increase across the board, it was not enough of a statistical jump to really indicate a speeding up of the game. After all, the range in possessions per game was between 58.5 and 85.7 in 1997-98, with 12 teams having averages of more than 80.

However, this past season saw a more noticeable change in offensive output with the average combined score jumping by nearly seven points per game from the previous year. In fact in 2012-13, the year before the new hand-check rules, scoring was the lowest it had been in the last 15 years, necessitating a real look at improving the offensive aspect of the game.

Now an even more drastic step may be taken to increase the quality of the product the college level can provide.

The new shot clock the ACC will be trying out will not be of the 24-second variety, but rather a 30-second clock. In essence it is a compromise between a complete shift to the professional model, and a doubling down on the current one.

"Our coaches and ADs both felt it would be an enhancement to the game in today's world," Swofford told ESPN. "It adds more possessions and potentially would speed up the game."

The clipping of five seconds, like any other rule change, has both pros and cons.

The best argument for cutting the shot-clock is that it directly addresses the chief problem it is meant to solve. With five fewer seconds on the clock teams will be forced, whether they like it or not, to try to find shots earlier on during their possessions. Quicker possessions lead to more offensive chances and more scoring, helping to alleviate the recent downward trend on offense.

With added scoring there is, of course, the belief that more fans will be in the seats and more people will watch on TV, which would all equate to more financial benefit for schools and the NCAA.

One of the arguments against the change comes from the notion that speeding up the game benefits offense and degrades defense, to the detriment of the game itself. More possessions would mean less intricate offensive schemes, and by extension defensive styles, taking away some of the heart of the college game. No more 2-3 zone at Syracuse, and perhaps a shift to the monotonous and isolation-heavy offensive game plans of the NBA.

That type of change could really help teams like Kansas and Duke, who bring in players every year who are nearly NBA-ready, but smaller programs could really be at a greater disadvantage. After all, the majority of players in the college ranks are purely amateur athletes who may struggle to perform at a pace closer to their professional counterparts. Even worse, those struggles could lead to a drop in the upsets that are so cherished come March.

The college game is not perfect as it currently stands, so taking a chance on some new rules and making adjustments where needed, like a shortening of the shot clock, is a smart move by the ACC and one the NCAA as a whole should also be considering.


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