This is the year of NCAA experimentation, the shot clock and the three-point play. Call it the year 1 A.D., as in after Dean.
Can anyone possibly forget North Carolina Coach Dean Smith instructing his Tar Heels to stall away the final seven minutes in the 47-45 victory over Virginia in the nationally televised Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game last year, and the uproar that it caused?
So now, we go from stallball to withdrawalball. With 12 of the nation's 30 conferences using either the shot clock or the three-point play, or both, this season, now we have the traditionalists asking, "Whatever happened to the good old days?"
Listen to Washington State Coach George Raveling, an avowed traditionalist. Raveling, whose Pacific-10 Conference does not use either the shot clock or the three-point play, says, "The college game was doing better than ever before we put in these rules. My feeling is, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' We shouldn't have a mechanical device (shot clock) legislating the game.
"Three-point play? Why stop there? Maybe we should have a four-, five-, six- and 10-point play, too," Raveling says. "Maybe we could have judges sitting on the sidelines, holding up cards that decide the degree of difficulty for each shot. You know, maybe give 10 points for one of those nice disco moves."
On the other end of the spectrum comes Ed Steitz of Springfield (Mass.) College, who is the editor and the national interpreter of the NCAA Rules Committee. Steitz says, "I happen to be one who does not believe in the status quo. I believe in the corporate world of 'Let's do some research and see if we can't improve what we have.' And that is what we are doing."
The middle-of-the-road view comes from Dallas Shirley, 17 years a supervisor of Southern Conference officials and one of the 13 members of the NCAA Rules Committee. Speaking the national consensus, Shirley says: "Nobody seems to know what's best for the game."
A recent informal survey of coaches, players and officials from these 12 experimenting conferences shows, most definitively, that there are three points of general agreement. First, the shot clock (30, 40 or 45 seconds) has proven beneficial in that it erases the opportunity of total stallball and still permits teams ample time to develop a pattern offense.
Second, the team that relies on three-point plays does not usually win.
And finally, most coaches would like universal rules, and rules that remain consistent during conference and NCAA tournament play. This year, the NCAA tournament will not include the shot clock or three-point play.
Five conferences employ both a shot clock and a three-point play this season, with time and distance varied. Consequently, each one of these conferences has had enhanced total scoring. The three-point distance in four of these conferences is 19 feet nine inches, from the center of the basket to the arc.
Of these conferences, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association scoring is up 13 percent, the Atlantic 10 and the Ohio Valley Conference are up 19 percent each, and the Sun Belt, with two new teams added this season, is up two percent.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, the fifth conference using both a shot clock and a three-point play, employs a distance of 17 feet nine inches (from the center of the basket to the arc) for its three-point shot.
This is the shortest three-point distance in the country and you want to talk about controversy?
"I must have had a sunstroke down there in the (ACC meetings) at Myrtle Beach when I voted for that thing," Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said recently.
Dean Smith, though, defends the ACC three-point play. He recently was quoted as saying, "If it (the three-point shot) is too close, too easy, why aren't more teams hitting it more consistently?"
In fact, the ACC is home of the highest three-point shooting percentage in the nation (39.8 percent) and the largest total points-per-game increase: 40 more points per game (from 118.5 to 158.9), or 34 percent.
A large lead, even late in the game, is rarely safe in the ACC. "You're always, always scared," says Virginia guard Othell Wilson.
North Carolina State guard Dereck Whittenburg, who has made 23 of 47 three-point shots, says, "You even got big guys like Sam Perkins and Thurl Bailey making three-pointers. When you got big guys making them, they become too much of a factor."
Maryland guard Jeff Adkins, who made one three-pointer when a lob pass accidentally went into the basket, says of the ACC three-pointer, "I've been able to hit that shot since I was in midget basketball."
And even though it is said the three-point play should move zone defenses farther from the basket, opening up the middle, Virginia's 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson says, "It's not clearing out any more space than we had without the (three-point) shot."
There are four conferences using a three-point play, but no time clock. Those conferences have fewer and longer possessions per team and, therefore, a smaller average points-per-game increase. The largest increase among these conferences is the Missouri Valley Conference, up 12 percent in scoring.
The Southern Conference, which began the experimentation with a 22-foot three-point shot three years ago, shortened its three-point distance to 19-9 this year and while the three-point shooting percentage has improved (from 30.8 percent combined over two years to 38.1 this year), the overall scoring has decreased.
The Big Sky Conference incorporated a 22-foot three-point play this year, longest in the country. However, Big Sky people note that if they had the chance to do it over again, they wouldn't.
As of last week, neither Idaho nor Montana, two Big Sky teams, had converted a three-point shot in Big Sky play. Compare this to Georgia Tech guard Mark Price, who has made 43 of 109 three-pointers in the ACC.
"The three-point shot has not become part of our offense. It's just too far out. It's strictly a last-ditch thing," says Ron Stephenson, Big Sky commissioner. "None of our coaches want it back next year."
In the conferences using only a shot clock--the Big East, Southeastern and Southwest, all of which use a 45-second clock--the desired effects apparantly have been reached. No stallball and enough time to construct a patient offense.
"If we can't get off a shot in 45 seconds," Georgetown Coach John Thompson, of the Big East Conference, has said, "then we have got problems."
The NCAA rules committee will meet at the final four in Albuquerque, N.M., in early April to analyze statistics and observations and to decide the fate of the shot clock and the three-point play.
Shirley, a Rules Committe member, says, "There has been experimentation of too large a variety. There's just so many of them, as somebody said, it's like we're playing three or four totally different games . . . Virgina and North Carolina last year scared a whole lot of people."
Raveling, the traditionalist, says if the rules aren't returned to those of the good old days, "One day Dr. Naismith will wake up and he won't recognize his game."
[See chart in original.]