GREENSBORO, N.C.—The NCAA gave coaches and players a lot of change to sift through this offseason in an attempt to make the game more attractive to fans both at the arena and watching on television.
Beginning Nov. 13, the results of those efforts will finally kick into gear.
On June 8, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a series of changes designed to improve the fan experience at games. They will also drastically alter the way teams strategize and execute throughout the season.
The biggest change to the prior rules is the shift from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters, which aligns with FIBA rules. Dividing the game into shorter segments will produce more chances for buzzer-beating shots, but will also affect the way players mentally approach their time on the court.
“I think it’s more of a psychological thing, in a standpoint of when you look up, you never see 15 minutes on the clock,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “To me, it’s more urgent. You better get going and take care of business, and so I think it’s going to have a good effect that way maybe on the urgency level.”
Although the length of the games will remain the same, there will be fewer dead-ball breaks, as team timeouts will be reduced from eight to six. There will be a break after the first and third quarters as well as on either the first dead ball after the five-minute mark of each quarter or a team timeout before then. The longer stretches will allow for a more continuous flow of action for fans and force players to potentially be on the court for more minutes at a time.
Although teams across the ACC recognize that these adjustments are designed to boost the popularity of women’s basketball, players and coaches noted that there will likely be an adjustment period—one that has already begun during preseason practices.
“Practice definitely has been really hard,” Syracuse senior guard Brianna Butler said. “We’re playing really fast and we’re trying to limit the number of times we’re walking around. We’re trying to run everything full speed, whether it be in the plays or just running to go get a water break.”
The switch to quarters instead of halves now removes the distinction between the one-and-one and the double bonus at the charity stripe. After the fifth team foul of a quarter, the opposing side will shoot a pair of free throws for the remainder of the period. Success at the free-throw line is now more important than ever, because a shooter will be guaranteed two shots.
“Shooting two free throws means you’ve got to be a really good free-throw shooting team, so obviously I’d think that means more teams are practicing that a lot,” Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle said.
The panel also adjusted the 10-second backcourt rule—which was added for the 2013-14 season—so that the count will not reset on a deflected ball out of bounds or a held ball that remains with the offensive team. This should benefit teams that apply full-court pressure, something Duke intends to do more of this season after relenting on McCallie’s usual press last season.
“I think its one of those situations where maybe teams that didn’t press in the past will press because now if you knock the ball out on the sideline in the backcourt, the ten-second rule doesn’t reset,” Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said. “I think you’re going to see a lot more pressing and trapping in those situations.”
Like the NBA, during the the final minute of the fourth quarter or any overtime period, a team may use a timeout to advance the ball into the frontcourt for an inbounds play following either a made basket, a rebound or a change of possession. This change will create the opportunity for more buzzer-beating plays, rather than last-gasp heaves from the other side of the court.
Although some coaches are intrigued to see how the game changes this season, there are others in the ACC who are not so enthralled to see the game being tweaked and revised.
“Personally, I don’t know what’s so wrong with our game that we keep changing the rules,” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We’re the only country in the world that plays rules other than international rules.”
Many coaches at ACC Media Day last month expressed optimism that the rules would change the game, but opted to reserve judgment until after the season begins.
“I think the rules are fine,” McCallie said. “I don’t think it’ll be that much of a deal, I don’t believe. None of us have played with the rules yet, so we can’t really answer without playing.”
Players around the conference have indicated that, although they anticipate differences within the games as well as practices, they do not see the changes having a major impact on themselves.
“I definitely think we’re going to have to work hard on getting used to those new rules, but it shouldn’t be that hard,” Pittsburgh sophomore guard Stasha Carey said. “We’ve [all] done it [transitioning from high school to college] and I think we can definitely do it again. We just have to stay focused.”
Regardless of its impact, the new bundle of rules will give women’s college basketball a new feel this season. A faster pace of play appears to be a positive in the minds of most players and coaches, but questions linger as to why the NCAA chose to make another round of incremental adjustments, rather than simply entirely adopting FIBA’s rulebook altogether.
With the season tipping off in just one week, fans are about to get their first glimpse at the future.
“I think it’s going to be a lot more fun,” Boston College head coach Erik Johnson said. “I think it’s going to be fun for the players, fun for the coaches, and it’s going to be a whole ton of fun for the fans.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."