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NCAA to experiment with four basketball rule changes in NIT

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the years, the NCAA has made a number of rule changes, both in football and basketball, with the latter having much more. Some are miniscule, while some are more drastic, but all of them change the game in some way. In recent years, the biggest rule changes in college basketball seem to be moving the three-point line back, shortening the shot clock to 30 seconds (from 35 seconds), and creating a four-foot restricted area underneath the basket. Much like they have for all previous changes, they will test four more rule changes in this year’s NIT, the NCAA announced on Tuesday.

  1. The three-point line will be extended by approximately 20 inches to the same distance used by FIBA for international competition (22 feet 1.75 inches).
  2. The free throw lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, consistent with the width used by the NBA.
  3. The games will be divided into four 10-minute quarters as opposed to two 20-minute halves. Teams will shoot two free throws beginning with the fifth foul of each quarter.
  4. The shot clock will reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the full 30 seconds.

“The style of play in men’s college basketball is healthy and appealing, but the leadership governing the game is interested in keeping the playing rules contemporary and trending favorably,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “Experimenting with two significant court dimension rules, a shot-clock reset rule and a game-format rule all have some level of support in the membership, so the NIT will provide the opportunity to gather invaluable data and measure the experience of the participants.”

Why the changes, you ask? The NCAA hopes that all four will make the game better and more entertaining.

The experimental rules will help determine if a marginally more difficult three-point shot will be effective for men’s college basketball, and if widening the lane will reduce physicality and create more driving opportunities. In addition, the number of possessions and any impact on the pace and flow of the game will be evaluated.

Although moving the three-point line back seems like it will then turn into lower scoring amounts, it could actually increase scoring due to there being more room to attack the basket and potentially forcing teams to shoot more shots close to the basket rather than from beyond the arc. A wider free throw lane will also open up the paint as well, which could help offenses.

Changing from two halves to four quarters makes sense and was also experimented with during the 2017 NIT. Given that women’s college basketball has already made the change and men’s college basketball is the only kind of basketball at the collegiate level or higher that still uses halves, the change seems necessary. The biggest difference between quarters and halves will be that there will no longer be one-and-one free throws, which is always a good thing.

The shot clock only resetting to 20 seconds will take some getting used to, but will make the flow of the game go faster as well. While some may say that it will force bad shots, it seems as though it will make teams that love to slow the pace of the game down to have a quicker offense, especially after an offensive rebound. Teams like Virginia are very good, but due to their pace of play on offense, some may think they aren’t entertaining because they have a very slow offense. This rule change will increase the amount of possessions each team has, which turns into more points.

The NIT is competitive, but it doesn’t compare to the NCAA Tournament. While winning is still important, it gives college basketball a chance to explore how well different rule changes will affect the game. A perfect way to see something firsthand while not affecting the game at its highest level.

Depending on how they are reacted to in the NIT, the changes will either become permanent prior to next winter or become nothing. My guess is that all four will become permanent next season. Would love for the NCAA to change the fouls a player is allowed to have in a game to six (from five). The only level of basketball that currently allows a player to have six fouls is the NBA. Although NBA games are 48 minutes compared to the NCAA’s 40-minute games. Although six fouls in 40 minutes seems like a lot, the change would be for the better, both for teams and fans.

To get a first glimpse of how the rule changes look and affect the game, the 81st NIT will begin March 13, with the semifinals and championship taking place March 27 and 29 in New York’s Madison Square Garden. All 31 matchups will air on ESPN networks.

Following the NIT, the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball oversight committee will review the changes and consider making them permanent. The next time the NCAA can introduce new rules is ahead of the 2019-2020 season, following the two-year cycle that ends in May 2019. They will likely experiment with the same ones (and more) in the 2019 NIT before potentially making any changes permanent.