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Griping about officiating in the early parts of the college basketball season is not unusual; in fact, it's kind of a tradition. It's particularly common in the years that include significant rule changes -- like last season, with changes to the shot clock, restricted area arc and timeouts -- and a significant adjustment period.

Sometimes, these tweaks can be so frustrating and affect so many star players that they can prompt calls for an extra (sixth) foul for players. Purdue's Matt Painter has pushed for this publicly last month.

But considering that last season's changes resulted in a higher-scoring, faster-tempo game on average, many involved in college men's basketball think these rules and officiating changes are worth the growing pains.

This season was not a rule-change year, but the rules committee took several offseason actions to build upon the positive developments it saw a season ago.

"The first action was to continue the directive to reduce physicality to create freedom of movement that we initiated last year," said J.D. Collins, NCAA national coordinator of officiating.

Here are the six areas included in that action:

Hand checking/body bumping the ballhandler.


Freedom of movement for cutters.

Offense-initiated contact on legal defenders.

Physical post play.


The last two areas will receive the most focus. Collins said to expect more double fouls (on the offensive and defensive player involved in contact) to be called throughout the season because of specific elements to the directive regarding post play. And expect fouls called early in games to send a message about unacceptable contact.

"If an offensive player picks up and has his elbows bent, then he's good, but when the offensive player straightens his arm out and wards off an opponent, we're going to be calling the first foul on that," Collins said. "Likewise, if a defensive player lays on a guy and reaches across him, that's the first foul, and we're going to call that. The problem becomes that most of the time those two things happen at the same time. The rules committee was very emphatic that we call double fouls on that. So I think you're going to see a rise in the number of double fouls in the post.

"There's some logic behind that -- if we call it, then coaches will adjust."

Collins also hopes to see improvement in the way officials call fouls on players before or in the process of rebounding the ball.

"We have done a poor job nationally on displacement fouls on rebounding during regular play and during free throws," Collins said. "We spent a lot of time in our clinics talking about the positioning of our officials so that our outside two officials, in center and trail, can get deeper and have a better angle on those displacement fouls -- and we hope that we'll be more accurate with calling those fouls because people do gain an advantage on those displacement fouls."

The last couple of general areas that have received particular attention from Collins include traveling and the sportsmanship of players and coaches.

But there also are three new specific interpretations that have taken effect this season that end up acting as pseudo rule changes.

To give some control back to head coaches -- in light of the 2015 rule change that took away their ability to call timeouts during live ball situations -- they are now able to call timeouts when their team is inbounding the ball. Coaches have to call for the timeout before the player releases the ball.

The final two interpretations involve the concept of a vertical cylinder and the restricted area arc. The adjustment regarding the restricted area came from an awareness of what was going on in the NBA and the conclusion that it allows for great defensive plays.

"The NBA calls it walling up -- if a defender is in the arc, he jumps in the air, his hands raised above his head and stays vertical in an attempt to block the shot, the restricted area arc is not in play," Collins said.

"So we'll officiate that play like any other play on the floor -- if there's more offensive contact, then it will be an offensive foul, and if the defense does something wrong, we'll call it a defensive foul, but the arc is not in play if in fact he jumps in the air, maintains the principle of verticality and has his hands up there to try to block the shot.

"On the other side of the coin on the restricted area, if the defender stays grounded, with his feet on the floor, even with his hands straight up in the air, if there's enough contact for a foul, it will be a blocking foul. We're giving more flexibility to a defender to jump in the air and defend and we're giving less flexibility to the defender who stays grounded in the restricted area."

The last interpretation has been perhaps the most confusing new piece of officiating to understand. It's the vertical cylinder, defined a season ago for an offensive player and defensive player, and it covers offensive players making "a normal basketball play," which had been defined as shooting, passing or starting to dribble.

Now, shifting the ball from one side to the other, below his waist or above his shoulders, is "a normal basketball play."

"If, in those two situations, the defense is in on him, has invaded his cylinder and there's contact, it's going to be a defensive foul," Collins said. "The potential exists that the defender is invading the space of the offensive player, and the trailing elbow on a swing above his head, catches him on the chin with his elbow -- and the guy drops. The foul is going to be on the defense.

"We want the defender to back off to give the offense freedom of movement to be able to make a normal basketball play."

But if the offensive player swings his arms as he moves the ball between his waist and his shoulders, and there's contact, that would be an offensive foul. That's considered clearing space.

"Look at the forearms of the offensive player," Collins said. "If I take the ball above my head, above my shoulders, my forearms are more vertical than horizontal.

"If I take the ball below my waist, my forearms are more vertical than horizontal, and if I take the ball across the middle, my forearms are more horizontal than vertical.

"So that's what the officials are looking for."

Collins said he's been pleased with the officiating this season -- and what it contributed to the game last year -- but there's always more progress to be made.

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December 1, 2016


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