With a team that averaged 73.4 points last season and a homecourt that is often filled to its 14,545 capacity, the Arizona Wildcats are running against the trends of college basketball these days.
But this is what’s happening everywhere else: The average points scored by a Division I basketball team last season was 67.5, the lowest average since 1981-82, and attendance continues to slide.
Division I schools lost another 1.5 percent in attendance at home games nationally last season after a 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education study found one of every five programs had attendance fall off 20 percent or more over the previous four seasons.
So the NCAA is rolling out 28 rule changes this season, the most significant of which could help offenses in block/charge situations and in freedom of movement, potentially propping up scoring.
“It’s all about taking the physicality out of the game,” said Bobby Dibler, the Pac-12’s new officials coordinator. “Our attendance is down and scoring is down. Officials can’t do anything about attendance but we can do a much better job at what it is we’re doing on the floor.”
Officials and coaches have gotten the message. Dibler discussed it with coaches and media at last week’s Pac-12 media day and the theme permeated an officials clinic for Western conference officials held in Phoenix earlier this month.
“Every meeting I’ve been in, that conversation comes up quite frequently,” says David Hall, a 33-year veteran official in the Pac-12 and several other conferences.
So, here’s what may look different to fans this season, according to NCAA materials, interviews with administrators, officials and coaches, as well as sessions attended at the Western coalition of officials clinic this month:
The block/charge equation. Officials, as a whole, get 90-plus percent of all calls and non-calls right, Dibler said, but the mark slips to the 60-percent range in the block/charge category. That’s because an official is forced to make an often difficult call on whether a defensive player has established position before colliding with an offensive player while watching feet and upper bodies closely, all in a split second.
The rule has been that a defender must establish a legal guarding position before an offensive player’s last toe leaves the ground, leaving enough time for a defender to get set and draw a charge in many cases.
Now the rule is that the defender must be in position before the offensive player begins an upward motion.
“The block-charge change is huge, clearly,” Dibler said, “and I believe that’s a rule change that’s going to help the game. It’s a change that I like.”
UA coach Sean Miller can understand why.
“I think everyone’s looking for ways for more points to be scored, and block/charges are a great way of accomplishing that,” Miller said. “That really does affect the game in so many ways. This favors the offense, which will impact scoring.”
Miller said the biggest adjustment will be to get defenders to be set earlier and weigh the risk and reward if doing so within the new parameters of the call.
But Colorado coach Tad Boyle isn’t much of a fan.
“I think it will bail the officials out a little bit by having it default to a block,” Boyle said. “But I would rather let the official make the call. Now as a defender it’s hard to know what to do and when to do it.”
For UA guard Nick Johnson, the rule could affect him on both sides of the ball. He’s the Wildcats’ top defender and also a skilled driver on offense.
“I’m just gonna have to adapt,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
Handchecking. Officials are now being required to more stiffly penalize defenders who keep a hand on an opposing player with the ball, jab at an opponent or use an arm bar to slow a dribbler’s progress.
John Adams, the NCAA’s coordinator of officials, attended the Western officials coalition clinic in part to encourage consistency with the new emphasis, though he could not speak with the Star afterward. Dibler also hammered the message home.
Hall and the other officials noticed.
“Officials need to call the game with the spirit and intent of the rules, which means handchecking, cutting and all that kind of stuff — we really need to call those fouls,” Hall said. “Teams will adjust to the way that you call it, but … it might be rough sledding in the first few games when coaches see more free throws being shot and the crowd not understanding what’s going on.”
Actually, some coaches are already alarmed.
ASU coach Herb Sendek, with an electric point guard in Jahii Carson who could benefit from the changes, said the rules could have a “revolutionary effect” on the game if they are executed to the extreme that it was described to Pac-12 coaches last week.
But that’s the key: Will the rules be executed to that extreme? Will a handchecking foul in November be a handchecking foul in January or in the NCAA tournament, or will the emphasis gradually diminish into the way things were?
“We all have to be very careful that we teach our players as best we can the way it’s going to be called,” Miller said. “Sometimes … it seems to morph into how it always is. It’s just not easy to change the game.”
Goaltending. If a shot hits the backboard and the ball is at or above the rim level, it is considered to be on a downward path and subject to goaltending if it is blocked – unless it has no chance of going in the basket. In that case, a player can touch or pull down the ball.
Players can also be called for basket interference when they cause the basket or backboard to vibrate when the ball is in the basket, on the rim, or within the backboard area.
Backcourt violations. The 10-second maximum count for a team to have the ball in the backcourt starts when a player legally touches the ball in the backcourt, except on a rebound or jump ball. In that case, it begins on player control.
The 35-second shot clock will be used to count the 10 seconds — giving a team to the 25-second mark in most cases — except when it is turned off at the end of a period.
Also, if the pass into the frontcourt is tipped into the backcourt, the count does not start until a player legally touches the ball in the backcourt.
Monitor review. The NCAA rules committee established a new chapter regarding instant replay, with guidelines intended to reduce its effect on the time of the game.
“I think we’re at the monitor too much,” Dibler said.
So anytime officials aren’t sure if a jump shot is a two- or a three-pointer, until the final four minutes of a half, they will signal the video operator to save the replay to be reviewed only at the next media timeout.
Fouls involving elbow contact are allowed to be both upgraded and downgraded upon video review, to either a common foul, flagrant 1 or flagrant 2.
In the last two minutes of a period or overtime, officials can use monitors to review whether a shot-clock violation occurred or to see which team forced the ball out of bounds.
And, in all cases, for an official to overturn a call made on the floor, the official must first find “indisputable evidence” on the monitor that the call was incorrect.
Postgame review. In the Pac-12, Dibler has assembled a nine-person staff that includes six game graders who will review every play of every conference game.
Four categories will be used: Correct call, incorrect call, correct non-call, and incorrect non-call.
The stiffer accountability brought praise from several Pac-12 coaches last week, which is exactly what Dibler is hoping for.
“When the coaches walk out on the court,” Dibler said, “I want them to feel very comfortable and think, ‘All I’ve got to do tonight is coach my team.’ ”