2017 NIT will experiment with rules in an effort to increase pace of play


The NIT will be trotting out a new rule experimentation this postseason.

Men’s college basketball has flirted with the idea of moving from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters before in the past. This move, in theory, would speed up game flow by eliminating one media timeout per half — which would be a red flag for networks televising the games — and reduce the number of free throws attempted. Under this hypothetical, teams would enter the bonus after drawing only five fouls, but that would reset at the 10-minute marks and at halftime.

The rule change that the NIT will experiment with next month essentially simulates that structure while also maintaining the unique two halves structure. It would also avoid the concern of dropping one television timeout.

Women’s college basketball is, of course, in its second season of using four quarters instead of two halves. According to a piece Seth Davis published for Sports Illustrated last December, though, the transition has produced limited results in terms of free-throw reduction. Davis states: “During the 2014–15 season, the last where the women played two 20-minute halves, teams averaged 17.52 fouls and 18.13 free throws per game. After the change, they averaged 17.55 fouls per and 17.15 free throws per game.”

It has been less than two full seasons since that change was made; with such a minor difference, though, more data may be needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.

What the NIT will is doing is a worthy experiment, although it seems a bit silly to not just try adopting the four-quarter format. That seems much easier. However, if college basketball prefers sticking with two halves, then this could potentially be a good compromise. Networks wouldn’t have to worry about losing an extra television timeout, and it would also provide some relief to the cavalcade of free throws that plagues the conclusions of some games.

Here’s the thing, though: If college basketball is really serious about speeding up the pace of play — much to the chagrin of Tony Bennett and Virginia — then a more precise action should be taken.

Another reduction of the shot clock is one option. The 2015-16 season was the first to be played with a 30-second shot clock, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. The reduced shot clock was not the only change — additional adjustments were made along the margin: a restructuring of timeouts called within 30 seconds of a media stoppage, removing live-ball timeouts for coaches and the restricted-area arc being moved out to four feet, among other changes.

According to statistics provided to the ACC Sports Journal from the NCAA, scoring went up significantly last season. The average game in 2014-15 featured 65.8 possessions; meanwhile, teams averaged 67.6 points. That jumped up last season to 69.9 possessions and 73 points. I consider that a win-win.

Division I teams attempted and made more three-pointers, and the game did not turn into a rudderless chuck-fest like some old fogies feared. According to the NCAA, turnovers per game increased only modestly — from 12.5 in 2014-15 to 12.6 in 2015-16. That’s nothing, especially once you adjust for the increased number of possessions. I know it has been only one-and-a-half seasons, but this is a huge net positive for college basketball.

So if college hoops were serious about trying to speed up the game, then why not drop the shot clock down even lower? That’s the most direct change that could be made. The NBA and FIBA both play with a 24-second clock; college basketball could absolutely follow suit in this department. Regardless, it’s encouraging to see the rules committee looking for ways to make the game faster and more higher-scoring. That is the direction in which we should be headed.