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October 31, 2013

New rules will stir debate





CHICAGO - Travis Carroll was asked whether the charge at the rim is dead.

Or at least dying in the wake of new NCAA officiating mandates regarding the often-controversial charge/block scenario.

"Uh ..." the Boilermaker center said, in a thoughtful pause, "yeah, it is. It's going to be very difficult with the new rule, but everybody's got to keep trying."

Such issues were prominently discussed Thursday in Chicago at the Big Ten's annual basketball media day, among the coaches and players from the league commonly perceived to be the most vulnerable to its style being altered by the changes, whether that's an accurate portrayal or not.

The NCAA rules committee's goal has been to create a more "free-flowing" game.

Translation: More scoring.

"I think the intent is good," said conference officiating director Rick Boyages, "but sometimes there's unintended consequences. Maybe we start to clean up the game but have more stoppages. I don't know how the public would perceive that. Maybe we see more zone defenses or teams dropping back their point of pickup (on defense), not extending the floor as much.

"The rationale is good. The concerns I have at times is we don't experiment enough before rules changes or gather enough data."

Data will be forthcoming, and in some cases, it might not be pretty.

Take Purdue's exhibition win Wednesday night over the University of Indianapolis for example.

The rules changes were only part of it, but the two teams combined to shoot 61 free throws in a game that lasted nearly two hours and 10 minutes.

"Last night, it was, 'Wow, can we even play defense anymore?' Purdue guard Terone Johnson said. "It took a little bit of the fun out of the defensive end of the floor, but everyone likes scoring points, so they're not complaining on offense."

The rule changes most likely to rack up whistles and extend games relates to the hand check and such things. Officials have been mandated to call a foul on any player that leaves a hand or forearm on an opponent; uses two hands; or jabs at the player with either a hand or forearm.

The intent, again, is to free up offensive players, increase scoring in all likelihood and create a more aesthetically pleasing game.

Matt Painter didn't hide his feelings about the changes, taking a hard stance against them, while other Big Ten coaches either expressed similar concern or at best lukewarm support or a "nothing we can do about it anyway" sort of view.

The Purdue coach said his feeling on the matter stems from both what he believes to be best for the game and from concern the changes may adversely impact the Boilermakers.

"As a coach when you speak, you're always concerned about yourself, but this isn't only affecting Purdue," Painter said. "It's affecting every single other coach here getting interviewed.

"With that said, coaches have complained about change before and been wrong, so maybe we're all wet. But I know this, that from an NBA standpoint, they did it and it helped the NBA game, but those guys are professionals, the best athletes in the world. You're talking here about amateurs here who are 18 to 22 years old and every player who's a guard at our level, even though it's a high level, isn't an elite athlete. ... There's some differences there."

The hand-check is one thing, the charge another.

Now, the charge, a staple of Purdue's long-time defensive identity, as well as those other prominent Big Ten programs, may virtually go by the wayside, as new mandates dictate a defensive player must hold established position before an offensive player initiates his move with the ball to the basket. That means no more sliding under airborn players, for one thing.

"It looks like there's not going to be very many (charges), if you ask me," Painter said. "It's like you've got to be set on Thanksgiving to take a charge on Christmas. I just think it's such a fundamental part of the game and it's a tough call, but how many tough calls were ball-strike calls in the World Series? (TV) put its box up there and you think, 'It's a centimeter outside, that's a bad call.' No, that's not a bad call. It's close. And when it's close, get the bat off your shoulder. That's the way it is. There's going to be tough calls and that's their tough call."

Aaron Craft, the craftiest defender in the Big Ten, no pun intended, said players are going to have to pick their battles wisely on defense, but may be more free to attack on offense.

"Bang-bang calls are going to be given to the offense now," Craft said. "It's tough. You're going to have to make a decision: 'Is it worth (the risk) of a foul?' It's an exciting thing for offense, though, because there are guys in the Big Ten who love to (take charges)."

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he hopes his team can take three charges per game, and admits he may have to expect fewer now.

But his stance on both rules changes was a simple, "You teach the rules of the game," which can be translated as everyone has to adjust.

That adjustment period will be interesting, for everyone involved.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was asked what might happen if a game crafted for a two-hour TV window stretches beyond more often into the 2:15 or even 2:30 range with fouls piling up.

"I don't know," Delany said.

Then one of the most powerful men in college athletics joked, "BTN will stay with the game. I have some influence there."

The goal, Delany and others have said, is for consistency and a template that's "sustainable" through each of college basketball's "three seasons": Non-conference play, conference play and the postseason.

For the time being, there might be some choppiness in the college basketball product.

But as everyone involved in the issue said Wednesday, all they can do is "adjust."

"There's other ways to change the game to get it more offense-friendly instead of calling it more closely," Painter said. "It's a contact sport. You're going to have contact, especially when you get out in an open area and every little bump and every slight hand check isn't a foul, which is how it's being handled right now.

"But you can't fight the powers that be. But when the game's stopping every 30 seconds, we're going to do our best to adjust. We'll see how it is."







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