Rules committee gets it right

Rick Byrd, coach of the year?

OK, maybe that’s a little bit much, but the Belmont coach and his rules committee deserve high praise and high-fives for the package of proposed rule changes they rolled out Friday afternoon.

It is rare that a call these days generates from the NCAA headquarters and is greeted with almost universal approval. By simply achieving that minor miracle, the rules folks ought to get a pat on the back.

The group spent the past week doing what so many are afraid to do; they looked at the status quo and said it wasn’t good enough. Change had to happen -- significant change. Then the committee went about and made that change happen.

Presuming the oversight committee approves the suggestions next month -- which it always does -- the game of college basketball will be better for it.

This is nothing less than a gigantic leap for hoopkind.

It is not that the game was bad, nor was it unwatchable -- the record number of people who tuned in to the NCAA tournament would refute any such claims. But it was watchable because it was compelling, with buzzer-beaters, nail-biters and an interrupted quest for perfection, not because it was a thing of beauty.

Bogged down by physical play and slowed by an endless run of timeouts, it needed to be improved, and the committee long ago recognized that.

Two years ago, in fact, Byrd called me and asked if I thought a select few media members might be willing to meet with the committee at the Final Four. What he said then rings in my ears today -- namely, that the media looks at games differently than coaches and is more likely to hear directly from the viewing public than a coach, and that he thought it would be helpful if we all got in a room to discuss what’s right and wrong with college basketball.

So for the past two years, the meetings have happened, and they have been more dialogue than interview sessions, an open, give-and-take conversation about ways the game could be improved.

That’s how serious this group was about getting this right.

Now, of course, simply changing the rules won’t make everything right. Rule books are only as good as the people who enforce them, so the real onus to make sure what has been suggested is actually implemented will fall on the guys in stripes.

The NCAA has a new supervisor of officials -- J.D. Collins -- and it will be up to him to make sure the way the rules suggest the game should be called actually happens.

But officials now will have at their disposal rules that encourage a concentration on defense on the perimeter and physical post play and rules that include a wider restricted arc area, a delay-of-game warning and subsequent technical for not breaking a huddle in a timely fashion after a timeout and a penalty for flopping (!).

And yes, a shorter shot clock. That will be the headliner here, and understandably so. Although every other version of the game -- the NBA, international and even women’s -- has cut off time, men’s hoops has been stuck at 35 seconds since 1993. But the idea that it will be the antidote to cure the scoring woes -- down to 67.6 points per game this past season -- is misguided. Byrd and other coaches -- and this writer -- don’t envision a significant increase in scoring with just five seconds fewer to shoot.

Truth be told, some changes that seem inconsequential on the surface could be even more impactful.

Each team will have one fewer timeout in the second half; if one is called within 30 seconds of a TV timeout/commercial break, that becomes the TV timeout. And my personal favorite, not allowing coaches to call timeouts during live-ball situations, a.k.a. bailout timeouts.

Perhaps those aren’t as obvious as five fewer seconds to shoot, but they are every bit as critical to producing a game that is entertaining and lively and, most important, that allows the players on the court, not the guys in suits on the sidelines, to determine who wins.

That, ultimately, is the goal.