Mark Story

Mark Story: A 5-step plan to rescue college basketball

Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, left, and forward Montrezl Harrell battled Michigan forward Jon Horford for possession of the ball. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, left, and forward Montrezl Harrell battled Michigan forward Jon Horford for possession of the ball. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Some problems that are undermining college hoops are beyond the power of NCAA administrators to fix. The NBA and its players union have created the one-and-done fiasco. Player agents with their street runners and shoe companies have made the cess pool that has always been college hoops recruiting even sleazier.

In terms of the game on the floor, however, there are things the college hoops power brokers can and should do to "save the game."

There's a strong case that 2012-13 was the modern low point for the on-the-court product in men's college basketball. Average scoring (67.5 points) was the lowest since 1952. Cumulative field-goal percentage (43.3) was at 1960s levels.

Even the one guy with every reason to relish the 2013 college basketball experience — Rick Pitino — acknowledged at the Final Four that play in college hoops has become so physical that it is suffocating the game.

"You can't cut, you can't move," Pitino said.

(Yes, that's funny to hear from a coach who has long employed a full-court pressure defense heavy on grabbing, but Pitino is right.)

Here is a five-step program designed to rescue college hoops from its on-the-court crisis:

1. Hands off all cutters.

Basketball at its best involves flow, motion and ball movement. Now, the game is so physical off the ball it may as well be officiated by the NCAA wrestling rule book.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the way to clean this up is for college hoops officials to announce before the season they are calling all fouls — every one of them — for physical contact that occurs when an off-the-ball cutter enters the lane.

The plan needs to be publicized so the coaches, players and fans know what is coming. Then the refs need to do it. If the officials call every foul for every team's first 10 games, the players and coaches will adjust and the game will open up for cutters again with all the benefits that would bring.

2. Eliminate the weak-side, off-the-ball charging call.

When a player beats his primary defender and drives to the basket, no other defender should be allowed to slide in front of the offensive player's path to draw a charge. If someone tries, by rule that should automatically be a foul on the defender.

This would be a huge step in opening up the court. It would also remove a judgment call for the officials that they are way too inconsistent in making.

If the powers-that-be in college hoops made only one major rule change, this should be it.

3. Do NOT shorten the shot clock.

In the understandable alarm over declining scoring and ugly basketball, many are pushing for reducing the shot clock from the current 35 seconds to 30 (as in women's college basketball) or even 24 (the NBA).

This would be a mistake. One major advantage college hoops has over the pros is the wide diversity of styles one sees in the collegiate game. A reduced shot clock would make it harder for a Princeton-style offense, to name one, to function. A shorter shot clock might also lead to fewer upsets.

4. No more alternating possession arrow.

As things are now, a defender can make a hustle play, force a held ball — and get absolutely no reward depending on which direction an arrow is pointing.

That stinks.

By rule, any held ball should be awarded to the team on defense when the possession began. At the start of the game, the second half and any overtime period, why not do something crazy like have a jump ball.

5. End the five-foul disqualification standard for players.

In no other major American sport are players disqualified from play over the number of infractions they commit. So why should college basketball deny its fans the maximum opportunity to see its star players play?

This may sound like it works against the other proposals designed to make the game less physical, but it does not have to.

For any foul a player commits above five, the opposing team should get two free throws and the ball back. That would serve as a powerful disincentive to having a player constantly fouling. It would also add another level of strategy a coach would weigh in leaving a player with five fouls or more on the floor.

Best of all, if difference-making players can not foul out, it should lessen the role the referees play in deciding the outcome of games.

That is a goal much to be desired.