Basketball has a speed issue. No, players aren’t failing drug tests on a regular basis. Let me clarify. Basketball has a problem with its pace of play — that kind of speed.
Ever casually enjoy three and a half quarters of professional basketball, only to watch Gregg Popovich and Mike D’Antoni hold a contest to see which coach can utilize the most timeouts in the shortest timeframe? You watch more commercials in the final minute of an NBA game than the entire Super Bowl broadcast.
And to all the states in America that don’t have shot clocks implemented in high school basketball — yes, Wyoming, that includes you — I hate you. Let me tell you, a 26-22 varsity basketball game really gets the blood pumping.
However, the most drastic pace-of-play issues can be found in the collegiate ranks. And this isn’t just a, “Hey, I’m a whiney columnist who hates slow high school games” type issue. College basketball has been nationally ridiculed for its slow play and, dare I say, boredom-inducing style for years.
Now, not every team plays at the snails’ pace of Virginia. My goodness, Tony Bennett, you’re killing us out here! Still, the game seems to be lagging behind most of the rest of the world.
A quick solution is fixing the shot clock. When the NCAA bumped its shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 a few years ago, average possessions per game jumped to about 70.4 compared to 66.5 the year prior, according to KenPom.com.
Now, all the NCAA has to do is drop that 30 down to 24 like everybody else, and we’d be well on our way to more fast breaks and free-flowing offenses.
These college hoopers are too dang good. Pretty much every college basketball team has at least one professional on its roster, and big time programs like Kentucky and Duke feed off pro talent.
Why not make them play similarly to the pro style?
And that’s not exclusive to the NBA. College basketball seems to be the only place in the world that has a longer shot clock. The International Basketball Federation implements a 24-second shot clock in every one of its leagues, no matter the age.
“All the countries that are under FIBA, it doesn’t matter if you’re a U16 team, U17, U18, U19, whatever it is, they all use 24-second shot clock,” Sheridan College head coach Matt Hammer said. “When you’re a junior in high school, sophomore in high school, you’re playing with a 24-second shot clock. It really speeds things up.”
Hammer even mentioned an idea of eliminating foul limits — players can’t foul out — to build excitement around the sluggish college game. There would be new penalties added at certain foul numbers, but the best players would remain on the floor even in “foul trouble” and certainly late in games. An interesting concept.
Those are quick, plausible solutions that we could see implemented in the near future. Women’s college hoops has already latched onto FIBA’s style more so than men’s, specifically switching to four-quarter games.
The fun solution, though, comes from a really smart bloke named Nick Elam, who created a rule — Elam’s Rule, of course — to cut time and add excitement to basketball game finales.
The entirety of the game is played exactly as it is now — until the closing minutes. Once the clock ticks down to just 4 minutes, it shuts off. At that point, seven points beyond the leading team’s score becomes the end target.
So, say the score is 80-70 with 4 minutes to go. The game clock shuts off (24-second shot clock stays on), and the two teams play to 87. First team to hit 87 wins.
Intentional fouls — Hack-A-Shaq — become way more risky and strategic. Those are free points for a team that needs all the points it can get. At best, with an and-1 3-pointer, a team would only need two possessions to win the game. That definitely speeds things up.
The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all tournament that features some of the best non-NBA pros and former college studs competing for a $2 million prize, implemented the Elam Rule this year. The games, which are broadcast on ESPN, took a bit of getting used to, but the concept is kind of wild.
Stuart Douglass, who played at the University of Michigan and now plays professionally overseas, competed in The Basketball Tournament and is fully bought in to the Elam ending.
“At first I was like, ‘This is OK.’ I wasn’t high on it because I’m so staked in traditional basketball,” Douglass said. “But the first time doing it, I thought it was perfect, especially for entertainment purposes. Sometimes we take sports too seriously, but sports is entertainment. I can’t imagine a more entertaining ending than that — high stakes, the pressure’s still on. But it’s way more fun.”
Still, the NCAA has been the one league most hesitant to make big changes, so the Elam Rule might be too farfetched.
“With the college game of basketball, on the men’s side, it’s been a lot harder to change things than pretty much any other level,” Hammer said.
Douglass thinks the NCAA would “100 percent” benefit from the rule but is doubtful it will happen anytime soon.
“They should experiment with certain things,” he said. “Start slow. There’s no harm in trying it, maybe in a small tournament or preseason tournament. But the status quo is the status quo.”
Basketball has its time issues at all levels, but for the most part, the game is getting faster. College basketball is the exception, and it needs to take a long look in the mirror to catch up to the rest of the world.
Whether it’s a tighter shot clock or a crazier Elam ending, college basketball needs to pick up the pace.