Opinion: Ideas for NIT Rules Experiments

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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)


The postseason Petri Dish tournament, otherwise known as the NIT, is headed our way.

Tonight, at the University of Richmond, the Spiders will serve as hosts to Oakland University, from Rochester, Mich., in a second-round game.

Hard as it might be to imagine now, the NIT 's importance and impact once was equal to, if not greater than, the NCAA tournament.

As the NCAA grew in magnitude and popularity, the NIT suffered a comparable decline. At one point, it was almost slap-dash, making matchups practically on the fly, giving the appearance the goal was to get the schools with the largest fan bases to New York and Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and championship.

Now, the NCAA owns the NIT. It's legitimacy is not questioned. And its purpose is not just to give teams left out of the NCAA tournament a second chance, but also to help improve college basketball.

The NIT regularly serves as a test tube for new rules.

This year, the tournament is a laboratory for resetting team fouls to zero every 10 minutes of game time and eliminating the one-and-one situation. Instead, upon the fifth team foul within that 10-minute period, a player gets two foul shots.

The NCAA also is experimenting with a shot-clock setting that could be crucial to players and coaches, but probably won't be noticed by fans.

The NIT is an excellent testing ground for potential rule changes. And if new rules are to be tested, there are a few others I'd like to see in the mix.

1. Give players six fouls before they are disqualified instead of five.

The argument against this is the game will devolve into little more than a wrestling match, and some players will foul with even greater impunity. Perhaps. But we need to learn if that will be the case.

The argument for this is teams shouldn't be crippled when a significant player picks up his second foul in the first half, perhaps on a 50-50 call or a touch foul, and he's pulled from the game by his coach or his third foul early in the second half.

No better example exists than the Spiders. T.J. Cline is their biggest starter at 6-feet-9. But he's not a powerful, low-post player. He's a highly skilled wing player who, by necessity, Richmond must use as an interior defender.

Almost everything the Spiders do on offense goes through Cline. And he's in a vulnerable position regarding fouls when he has to guard low-post players.

If he had an extra foul to give, several Richmond losses this season might have been victories, and Richmond might be in the NCAA tournament instead of the NIT.

A number of teams, in and out of the power conferences, can ill-afford to lose one significant player. A six-foul rule might make things more equitable across all levels of college basketball.

2. Play four, 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves.

If the team fouls are going to be reset to zero at the 9:59 mark of each half, why not just go ahead and divide the game into four quarters?

At least this way everyone would remember the team-foul slate is clean.

Coaches would have a built-in break for strategy adjustments. They might even use fewer timeouts. Television still could find a way to get its four timeouts in per half.

The argument can be made the game flows better with 20-minute halves instead of four quarters. But high schools, women's college basketball, the WNBA and NBA play four quarters. Let's find out how the men's game would be affected by the format.

3. Use timeouts to advance the ball.

In the final minute of each half, allow the offensive team calling a timeout after an opponent has scored to inbound the ball from midcourt instead of along its baseline.

Sure, this takes away the eternal highlight film of Duke vs. Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tournament and the full-court pass that enabled Northwestern to beat Michigan this season.

That there are so few such moments is an indication of the nearly insurmountable odds teams face in the final seconds.

However, this rule might dramatically alter the game and unfairly penalize teams that successfully work for the final shot.

The NIT could provide the road to find out.

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March 20, 2017


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