The rules changes can be roughly grouped into two main categories: pace of play and officiating standards to reduce physicality, along with a third, miscellaneous collection of unrelated items. While the major headline-grabbers have mostly come from the first two groups, the long range potential impact of at least one of the items from the third group could be great. /P>
OFFICIATING STANDARDS \ REDUCING PHYSICALITY
Five areas were singled out for increased focus this year, but they won't just be “points of emphasis” as they were in preceding seasons. The rulebook will actually get rewrites to make specific actions callable fouls. The areas include:
- Perimeter defense
- Post play physicality
- Block/charge calls
- Freedom of movement for players without the ball
Rules for less hands-on perimeter defense were put on the books two years ago, but after early crackdowns were irregularly called as the season progressed. There were more body bumps and checks called, but hands and armbars on dribblers crept back into the game. If these are called, the effect will be big. Point guards who can drive the ball and score in the lane will become a necessity, as those that can't take advantage of the new rules will put their team at a scoring disadvantage.
Bodying up in the post will make interior defense more difficult, and it could help more slender forwards who have floated outside become more of a threat in close. Of course, this assumes that those players have some post skills to begin with, such as drop steps and jump hooks. It will be interesting to see if the rule also prohibits the practice of offensive players with the ball backing down defenders and knocking them out of the way – a call that was rarely made in past seasons.
Moving screens have rarely been called, although WVU was hit with a handful last year. If this is strictly adhered to, it will have a big impact on offensive plays, given that most every offense includes screens on and off the ball. Combined with the shorter shot clock, this could be the one big boost that defenders get in the rules change package -- but not enough to offset the benefits offensive players will receive.
The block/charge call isn't a rule issue – it's a judgment call. Yes, the parameters for contact being called a charge are in place, but they simply aren't seen the same way by any two officials. Combined with the expansion of the restricted arc, this will likely lower the number of charge calls, because the intent is clearly to open up more space for play and allow more drives to the hoop. The net effect should be more open shots off drives, as secondary defenders are going to be even less likely to step in for charges.
Freedom of movement will be the toughest thing to judge, as it will require officials to look away from the ball to see whether holding is taking place on those attempting to make cuts and rolls without the ball. Defenders are supposed to be allowed their own space as a means of denying cuts, but figuring out who is entitled to what space (and who was there first) is nearly impossible on the block/charge call with the ball. Again, the benefit of the doubt is going to go to the offense, and it should result in more room to operate.
PACE OF PLAY
Most of these changes are much easier to quantify, and figure to help the perception of a game that is moving more quickly. The removal of one timeout per team (from five to four) and the combining of called timeouts and media timeouts that occur within 30 seconds of each other should have the most effect. While the reduction on the overall length of the game figures to be just a few minutes, a less choppy feel to the action should result. That should help teams that have the ability to play "on their own" a bit, and perhaps put more value on those players that understand the game better.
Other rule changes designed to reduce the time allotted for coaches to replace a player that has fouled out or been ejected, and one that allows video review of shot clock violations or the faking of a foul will also have effects, but these will, like block/charge, be mostly on the refs. Will officials strictly enforce the time limits, and get the game moving again quickly? Or will multiple video review slow the game down more than the speed-ups gained by the timeout changes? Unless there's discipline for those officials who don't follow the new guidelines, the bet here is on the latter.
Elimination of the five-second "closely-guarded" rule should also eliminate a small number of stoppages per game, as there won't be resulting dead-ball turnovers, but it will again be interesting to see how trapped teams react. Will they still burn a timeout when totally trapped, especially with one fewer to draw from each game? Will the removed need for an official to concentrate on the count result in more fouls called on those executing the trap? Or will desperation passes and longer time for ball exposure result in more live ball turnovers? The guess is the middle option, especially given the nature of emphasis on reducing contact on the perimeter.
Finally, one experimental rule to be used in the NIT, CBI and CIT postseason tournaments could wind up having a countering effect on many of the physicality rules. Six personal fouls, instead of five, will be allowed in those tournaments, and that simply doesn't make much sense at all. If players are allowed that additional leeway, it figures they won't have to be as careful, especially on defense, as they will this year. That could lead to more fouls being called and more stoppages in play, which aren't goals of any of this year's rule changes. Data from such a small sample of games can't be used to much predictive effect, so it's hoped that this rule change won't be rushed into production.