My recent post about the effect of the proposed experimental rules on college basketball ignored something important. It ignored the context under which these changes are being considered. After all, if the balance between offense and defense is tilting towards the offense, then making a few changes to help the defense might be appropriate.

The NCAA has been tracking basketball statistics since 1948, and they’re published annually in the NCAA Record Book. Turn to pages 37 and 38 to see the data yourself.

Numbers for 2003-04 haven’t been published yet, but after doing the calculations I can tell you that scoring averaged 69.3 points per game, continuing a decade-long decrease. There have been only 3 seasons since 1960 that have had less offense. Those years were 1982, 1984, and 1985, back in the pre-shot-clock and no-3-point-shot days. Field goals made dropped to levels not seen since the 1953-54 season!

Scoring has been on a steady decline since 1993-94 when the average was 75.0. A similar trend occurred from the mid ’70s to the early ’80s. Scoring peaked in 1972 at 77.7 points per game, a single season record that stands today. It fell to 67.6 in 1982 and stayed below 70 points through 1985. The NCAA reacted by throwing the offense a bone – introducing the 3 point shot for the 1986-87 season. (They also added the shot clock the season before, but it had almost no effect on offensive production.)

But now, with scoring (and TV ratings) again plummeting to historic lows, the NCAA wants to make changes that favor the defense. Some coaches are obsessed with the moving the 3 point line. The shot has become too easy they say. Yet the data is there staring you in the face – there is no evidence to suggest the shot is getting easier. Last season 34.5% of 3 point attempts were made, down 0.3% from the year before. The success rate has been 34-point-something every season since ’93-94.

There is one stat that has shown an increase since 1986-87…

3 point attempts as a percentage of all shot attempts

Every year of its existence, the 3 point shot has become a bigger part of college basketball than the previous year. So to an extent I can understand why coaches would want to move the line back. But to say that the shot has become too easy is not supported by the facts. And if you’re going to nudge the line back, give the offense a little help somewhere else. Don’t further penalize them by widening the lane. Sure, the NBA-style block-charge arc is being experimented with this year, but it will have almost no impact on overall scoring.

So what should be done to get offense back to a more appealing level?

I’ll take that on in my next post.