The trouble with college basketball

— and two rules to fix it

Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan talks to his team against the Michigan Wolverines during the first half of the Elite Eight on Sunday, March 31, 2013 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Matt Stamey
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 9:05 a.m.

College basketball has an identity crisis. Very few people who aren't Kentucky fans pay much attention to the sport in the fall when it tips off with big games.

There are two reasons for this:

1. It's college football season. Except in bigger cities where it's professional football season. Both sports continue to run deeper into the following year, taking away from even conference games in basketball. The Super Bowl is played in February, and college football's season actually extends into that month, as well, because of National Signing Day.

2. College basketball has a tournament and it's all that anybody really cares about. That's why games in December might raise eyebrows, but rarely raise concerns. It's a shame, because some schools (and I put Florida high up on the list) have grasped the concept that the better teams you play in the non-conference schedule, the better you will be treated when the field for March Madness is announced.

There has been talk about moving the season back, starting it in the middle of December so it would be a one-semester sport. Those conversations have been going on since 2008, and you see where they have gone.

Basketball, like so many other sports, is run by television, and CBS wants March Madness, not April Absurdity. It also wants basketball finished in time for the Masters.

As a result, in places like Gainesville, where the basketball team has reached three straight Elite Eights and is only six years removed from the second of two consecutive national titles, the apathy in November and December is deafening.

Billy Donovan has done an unreal job as Florida's coach. I believe he is the best coach in University of Florida sports history. I believe he would be on the Mount Rushmore of Florida coaches along with Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer (hey, don't throw tomatoes) and, well, we can argue about the fourth one, but that's a different column.

Donovan is underappreciated by fans but not by the UF administration. He deserves better than some of the crowds that show up for non-conference games.

But, as I have said many times, this is not a basketball school. It's a wonderful basketball program, but not a basketball school. Kentucky is. Kansas is. Indiana is.

It's not just at Florida, where the indifference is thick until we get to the Big Dance. All around the country, on talk radio shows and chat rooms and websites, basketball doesn't seem to get interesting until the dozens of bracketology columns matter.

I would add a third reason to the two above, which are not going to change.

3. College basketball isn't that great to watch.

It's not just because there are so many one-and-dones. It's not just because challenged offensive teams try to take as much air out of the ball as possible.

Both of those things play into it. But the biggest reason is because officials don't call fouls. They will tell you they could call 10 on every play and don't want the game to get bogged down with free throws. But what has happened is that it has progressively become worse each year.

And we finally had what we had last year — the lowest scoring season in the sport since 1952.

It was ugly. Players have become bigger and stronger and more physical and play under the basket, and sometimes the game has looked more like wrestling than basketball.

Donovan told me last April that, “Our game is more physical than the NBA.”

He believes the lane should be wider, keeping players out of the middle and freeing up some space. He believes a shot clock reduction from 35 seconds might help.

But more than anything, he believes the game could look more like basketball if the officials simply called fouls.

The Men's Basketball Rules Committee agreed, and in June passed two rules changes. One would penalize a defensive player who moves into an offensive player's path after that player leaves the ground. The second was to call for “strict enforcement” of rules concerning fouling.

Not regular enforcement.

Strict enforcement.

In other words, a foul is a foul and start calling it.

We'll see how it all works out this basketball season. The hope is that coaches and players will react to foul trouble by telling their defenders not to be so physical, thus making it easier for a player to score.

If it works, who knows, we might start getting into basketball before the Super Bowl is over.

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