About a month ago the NCAA announced the experimental rules that are to be used in exempt games this season. For the second consecutive season, the 3 point line will be moved back 9 inches to 20′ 6″ and the lane will be widened. (Although the lane won’t be the international-style trapezoid used last season, it will be an odd looking six-sided polygon.)
Why make these changes? Basketball rules committee chairman Willis Wilson explains:
Wilson said that the goal of a wider lane is to better spread the floor to reduce rough play near the basket and to allow periphery players easier access on their penetration to the basket. The extension of the three-point line is part of that desire, not an effort to make the shot more difficult. “Our research from past experimental rules shows that moving back the line does not affect the number of three-point shots taken or the percentage made, but we believe it’s a necessity if we widen the lane,” Wilson said, “plus, the survey shows greater support for moving back the line than ever before.”
I commented back in January about how I would like to see the data on exempt games compared to regular games. Well I have, and the numbers don’t support making these changes permanent. By my count there were 115 exempt games between Division I teams. I will compare the stats from these games against the stats from all other games before December 31st, since this is when the exempt games ended. There were 1,371 “regular” games during this time. Here are some of the more important stats…
Fouls per 40 minutes Exempt games....38.2 Regular games...38.3
In my mind, this would be the clincher for the international rules. You reduce the number of whistles and everyone’s happy. Well if you watched 10 games with the new rules, there would be a total of one fewer foul called. Not enough to be noticed, for sure. It’s still possible that there was less pushing and shoving in the post, but that big men decided to use the fouls saved there in some other capacity. At any rate, there was certainly no breakthrough here.
3 point percentage Exempt games....33.8 Regular games...33.9
To put this in perspective, there were a total of 4,124 3 pointers attempted in exempt games. There were only 4 fewer made 3’s than what you would expect with the regular rules. So Willis Wilson was correct when he said shooting percentage wasn’t affected. This is hard to explain – the line was pushed out 9 inches further, yet there wasn’t much of a change in shooting percentage. Then again it was only 9 inches.
3 point shot attempts as a percentage of all shot attempts Exempt games....31.5 Regular games...32.1
Some of the stability in 3 point percentage can be attributed to teams being more selective in their shooting. Still, the difference represented above is only slightly under one shot attempt per game.
2 point percentage Exempt games....45.0 Regular games...47.9
This is one of the few stats that had a meaningful difference. Maybe it’s not surprising that 2 point percentage went down, since the 2 point area annexed a chunk of what was previously 3-point land. But this difference can’t be attributed to that fact alone. Whatever the reason, the defense appears to be gaining the most from the changes. The goal “to allow periphery players easier access on their penetration to the basket” wasn’t achieved based on these numbers.
Turnover percentage Exempt games....21.7 Regular games...22.1
This stat is the percentage of possessions that end in a turnover. Apparently the defense didn’t have all the advantages as they were less effective at forcing turnovers, with a noticeable decline in steals also. It sounds like the exempt games had fewer fast breaks and more halfcourt action.
Possessions per 40 minutes Exempt games....69.9 Regular games...70.4
The exempt games were slightly slower. Nothing to get too concerned about, but just another piece of evidence that the intent of the rules changes did not occur.
Points per 40 minutes Exempt games....132.4 Regular games...137.7
This is probably the most important thing to fans. Scoring was down about 4% in the exempt games. The slight decrease in two point shooting % plus the slight decrease in 3 point shots taken and the slight decrease in pace of play all contributed to a decrease in offense. It’s not surprising that scoring decreased – simply because the 3 point line was moved back. But the problem is more attributable to 2 point shooting.
The picture being painted here is that all of the changes favor the defense. The lane gets made wider, only pushing the offense further from the hoop, but not affecting the defense at all – probably the reason there was a decline in 2 point shooting. Obviously moving the 3 point line back doesn’t help the offense either.
Fan interest in any sport doesn’t do well as scoring decreases. If the NCAA wants to do something about the declining interest in college hoops, these rules changes aren’t the answer.