Six is the Magic Number

As a lifelong College hoops fanatic, I’m typically resistant to any significant changes to the rules. However, when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel released the rule updates which were being put in place for 2015-16, it was the first time I can recall agreeing with the changes.

I had my concerns about reducing the shot clock, but 30 seconds is a sweet spot I can live with; and for years, I’ve been shouting to the rooftops to change the 10 second rule. The NCAA did the right thing, and no longer resets the 10 second count if the team in possession calls a time out while still in the back court. Those were the two most significant adjustments to the actual game play; and two months into the season, college basketball is largely unchanged, with some nice enhancements via the rule modifications.

Despite the improvements brought about due to this year’s updates, the one rule change which should have been pushed to the front of the line was to increase personal fouls from five to six. Now, that was proposed, and is in experiment mode to some extent this coming post season; however, it won’t be in play come NCAA Tournament time. Giving players a little bit longer leash would have been a major upgrade to college hoops, and I’ll tell you why.

Across the sports landscape these days, officiating is under heavy fire. Whether it’s college or pro, football, basketball, baseball, you name it; officials in every sport are, let’s just say, not very well liked. Of course it’s not always warranted, but college basketball has its fair share of really poor referees. And more than any other sport, college hoops seems to have more officials, who inject themselves into the game, and think they’re part of the show.

What does any of this have to do with adding a sixth personal foul? It has everything to do with it. Allowing each player an additional personal foul will reduce the impact the officials have on the outcome of the game. I’m not suggesting that by adding that sixth foul, poor officiating shouldn’t be addressed. However, you can’t very well discipline a bad official during the game. So let’s clip their claws a bit.

Scaling back the damage caused by quick whistles will do wonders for the game and the viewers. Even on nights when the refs want to impose their will on both teams, guys who normally would need to sit on the bench for the last 10-15 minutes of the first half, will now have new life. While the constant stoppages will still be annoying, at least the fan favorites will still be on the floor.
That brings me to my next point.

College basketball has a popularity problem, particularly during the regular season. So let’s keep the stars on the floor. There isn’t nearly the amount of true “stars” in college hoops, as there were in decades past. Many teams are carried by one or two strong players, with a bunch of role players around them.

Take the Providence Friars as an example. Last week, Kris Dunn got two first half fouls against Butler. The inability to keep him on the floor, led to a 12 point deficit. While they were able to climb out of it, and ultimately win the game, his absence put them in peril. Dunn needs to be on the floor producing highlight reels, not walking on egg shells trying to avoid picking up number three.

More and more college freshmen are hanging around for one year, until they bolt for the NBA. With such limited opportunity to watch these rising stars play, we need to reduce the possibility of having them saddled with early fouls, planted to the pine.

Ben Simmons is one of the most hyped freshmen in recent history. Given that his LSU Tigers squad has been underwhelming thus far, there’s a distinct possibility America won’t see him in the Big Dance. In the meantime, we run the risk of flipping over to the rare, nationally televised LSU game, and having Simmons nowhere to be found if he gets slapped with a couple early fouls. College ball needs the stars and future stars out there showing off their talents.

A while back, my esteemed colleague Hollis Mclain III wrote a piece explaining how the new rules would narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots. You can check that out here after you finish this post. I personally disagree, and feel that by and large we won’t see much difference than we have in recent years. However, I do believe that adding a sixth personal foul will actually widen the gap; and that’s a good thing. Allow me to explain.

As I stated earlier, by adding another personal foul to each player’s arsenal, we’re drawing power away from the referees; and keeping the best players on the floor for longer periods of time. Over time, the cream will rise. More skill and physical talent will eventually wear down lesser opponents. It will also provide the viewing audience with a better basketball experience.
This won’t be as evident during the regular season, though it will certainly have an impact. Come March, when the games are being played on the biggest stage, that’s when it will really show. Rather than having a top seed sweating it out against some double-digit nightmare because their best player picked up two quick ones, coaches will be able to keep their stars in the game, thus avoiding the scare.

Look, I’m all for the VCUs, Wichita States, and Butlers of the world making a deep tournament run. I enjoy watching a 14 or 15 seed pull off a stunner. However, when we get down to the Elite Eight, and the Final Four; it’s time for the little guys to go, and let the big boys play. This rule change would increase the likelihood that as the NCAA Tournament progresses; the top teams have their best players at their disposal, allowing the tournament to take proper shape.

I love college basketball above any other sport, and I certainly don’t want to see it mirror the NBA game. But adopting the six personal foul rule permanently, like the NBA, is the right move. Ultimately I believe it will be put in play. Since it wasn’t done this year, it needs to be done sooner rather than later, for the good of the game.

Photo: ATrumbly/Flickr