When the NCAA men's basketball rules committee introduced the three-point shot to the college game in 1986, it caught most people by surprise...
When the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee introduced the three-point shot to the college game in 1986, it caught most people by surprise. So did an announcement Thursday that the committee has voted to back out the arc by a foot starting with the 2008-09 season.
The vote to move the line to 20 feet, 9 inches must be approved by the NCAA playing rules oversight committee May 25, considered a formality.
Observers of the game, including many coaches, have long contended that 19 feet, 9 inches was too close. But the innovation survived 21 years as implemented and because of factors like unpredictability and big comebacks lending excitement, the rules committee had seemed reluctant to tamper with the distance.
“It has been an ongoing process with lots of different input,” said Brad Jackson, Western Washington coach and a member of the rules committee. “Out of that came this decision.”
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Among other analyses, the committee regularly looks at trends in shooting percentages, takes an annual survey of coaches and administrators and, at the recent Final Four in Atlanta, discussed it with coaches.
“I was one who was in favor of it,” said Lorenzo Romar, the Washington coach. “I think really good shooters shoot. The ones who can make it at the other line can make it at this line.”
While 12 inches might not change the equation much for the better shooters, Romar thinks it could affect players who have been marginal at the 19-9 distance, “the players who want to prove to everyone they’re good three-point shooters, and they keep shooting it, and they’re proving they’re not. Those players may not shoot it as much anymore.”
In some quarters, there was dismay expressed that the committee didn’t widen the lane, which would have provided a two-pronged revision for opening up offensive movement.
“I think the lane is fine,” Romar said. “I think maybe we’ve looked at the success of the international teams [with a bigger lane], and we’ve not been as successful in that competition, and maybe that’s prompted some to say that we need to learn that game [better].
“Widening the lane caters to the new postmen, the Dirk Nowitzkis and Tim Duncans. I don’t think it’s good for the Shaquille O’Neals.”
In the first year of the three (1986-87), college teams shot a collectively better percentage (38.4) than they have since. As the three became fully infused into offenses, teams shot more of them, but at a lower percentage that dropped to 34.1 in 1997. It has crept back to 35 percent.
“I’m really not concerned about it,” said Oregon freshman guard TaJuan Porter, who led the Pac-10 with 110 made threes last season. “I shoot from beyond the three-point line anyway, like 25 feet.
“[But] there’s going to be more room in the paint for the bigger guys, and for the perimeter players to penetrate.”
The change could affect a team like Washington State, which bases its man-to-man defense under coach Tony Bennett on pressuring the ball hard but sagging the other four defenders to protect the lane. Bennett, the NCAA career in three-point accuracy as a Wisconsin-Green Bay guard, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach, said he thinks the change could have an impact on “the system that’s kind of in vogue right now,” the penetrate-and-kick offense that teams such as Memphis have had success with.
On a general level, though, he wasn’t enthused about the change, saying, “The game’s as popular as it’s been. I don’t think you mess with things when they’re going good.”