Significant NCAA Basketball Rule Changes for the 2015-2016 Season

Come hither, ye fans of the university sports, for we can rejoice over the arrival of college basketball season!

The NCAA approved a series of compelling changes to the NCAA Men's Basketball rule book during the off-season to spice things up a bit. Back in June, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel gave the green light on proposals and officiating focus areas with three identifiable goals in mind: (1) to improve the pace of play, (2) create a better balance of offense and defense, and (3) to "reduce the physicality in the sport." Do not fret over these changes, anxious basketball junkies. In case you need a refresher or just completely missed the memo, below is a summary of the significant rule changes and their legal gravity.

Pace of Play [because the only time we are o.k. with people - especially coaches - interfering with a game is if they are jim harbaugh and if we can make gifs and memes of those antics]

  • Reducing the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds - The last time the NCAA reduced the shot clock was for the 1993-1994 season, where it decreased from 45 to 35 seconds. Generally, the game has become more uptempo, and this change is not profoundly surprising.
  • Reducing team time outs from five to four, only three of which can be carried over into the second half - Self-explanatory.
  • Taking away the coach's ability to call a timeout when the ball is live - This is one of those rules that shouldn't hinder a team. Whether it will aid the areas of focus in an effective manner is left up in the air. A coach is not there to necessarily "entertain" the fans with a faster-paced game. He is there to score points and win.
  • Enforcing the 10-second backcourt rule (i.e., 10 seconds to move the ball from back- to frontcourt) minus few exceptions - Personally, I am indifferent to this change. It probably will not affect the game, generally speaking.
  • Allowing a team timeout called 30 seconds before the scheduled media timeout (i.e., at the 16:00, 12:00, 8:00, and 4:00 mark of each half) to actually become the media timeout - HALLELUJAH!
  • Imposing stricter resumption of play after timeouts and imposing a stricter time limit on replacing a disqualified player - Officials will be focusing on getting the game going right away, and teams will have only 15 seconds as opposed to 20 seconds to replace a player who has fouled out.
  • Diluting the value of "Class B" technical fouls to give the non-violating team one free throw instead of two - "Class B" fouls include calls like delay of game and hanging on the rim. These fouls do not involve physical contact during the course of play and often involve hindering the game from rolling. It makes sense that when the game is already moving slow due to these types of fouls that we want to avoid the snowball effect where the game moves at an even slower pace.

Balancing the Offense & Defense [because scoring neared an all-time low, and some people think that is boring]

  • Allowing officials to call technical fouls on fakers - Flopping around the court like a fish out of water looks silly. If a player is that horrible at faking a foul to where officials need to review the video to determine whether a flagrant foul occurred, that player should get penalized (a) for wasting our time, and (b) for trying to use their position on the court as a cop out. The Rules Committee felt that deceptively drawn fouls has become an issue of concern, and I believe rightfully so with respect to the game's integrity, which is why in theory this is a big change. Will this be enforced, and if it is, will enforcement be consistent? We shall see.
  • Giving offensive players the same "verticality" protections as defensive players - Balancing protections because why not?
  • Opening the door for officials to check out video replay of shot clock violations at any time during the game - Previously, reviewing shot clock violations could only occur during the final two minutes of regulation and in overtime. This should not happen frequent enough to where it inhibits the pace of play initiatives, and it can also incentivize the players to take the shot knowing that they may not be given the benefit of the doubt with video review as an option.
  • BONUS! Playing with an experimental rule during the 2016 postseason tournaments (but not the NCAA Tournament) that allows players six fouls rather than five. 

Reducing the Physicality [because bodies and brains are important]

  • Expanding the restricted-area arc from three feet to four feet from the basket - The NCAA is hoping that this limits the number of collisions at the basket since reducing the frequency is one of the NCAA's ongoing commitments. Some people may remember that the 2015 NIT Tournament was the guinea pig for this rule. Relative to the 2013 tournament that had the same standards minus the four foot arc, the number of block/charge plays in this past year's NIT Tournament went down from 2.77 per game to 1.96 per game, in tandem with the NCAA's initiatives.
  • Erasing the five-second "closely guarded" rule (when the ball is being dribbled) and the "no dunking during warmups or halftime" rule - These are miscellaneous alterations that probably did not need tinkering with, but whatever. The dunking can arguably be for player benefit, but we know it truthfully goes to the entertainment factor.

How Does This Relate to the Law?

As a governing body that really has no special legal protections for more reasons than I can reference, the NCAA subjects itself to business law standards of conduct federally and across multiple state jurisdictions across the nation. Its business processes in making rules that govern the sport must comply with legal business practices, and the body has to make sure that whatever rules are decided upon result in what is coined as "competitive balance."

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel is a 12-member NCAA committee (six members from Division I and three from each Division II and Division III) that oversees approving rules, writes rules that the NCAA does not write itself, and directs and counsels the lower 15 Playing Rules committees. As such, it must comply with meeting requirements according to law (e.g., regular meetings, maintaining reports), have proper procedures for member selection, and steer clear of any potential conflicts of interest. All of their reports are public information, and it is evident that the committee complies with general business law requirements.

What is more fun to discuss is the "competitive balance" aspect. All the NCAA member institutions nationwide agree to follow the rules this governing body dishes out. Under the most basic concept of antitrust law, section 1 of the Sherman Act provides that "[e]very contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal." On its face, every contract among parties would violate antitrust law because it is restraining something to some extent. Therefore, the law is interpreted to hold only unreasonable restraints of trade to be illegal. Procompetitive benefits of restraints must outweigh anticompetitive effects.

With respect to sports, "competitive balance" is what we aim for not only to make the game (i.e., the product) entertaining but also to be legal.

We are seeing these rule changes to make the game more exciting, more entertaining, and more "competitive." Think about it, though. What does it mean to be competitive? What does it mean to have struck the desired competitive balance?

Game-by-game, these rule changes could make each individual game more exciting, more entertaining, and they could each team a chance at winning on that given day. The rules and the greater picture that comprises the entire college basketball product could be seen as "net procompetitive" with the benefits outweighing anticompetitve effects of restraining what the college basketball product is. Season-long, on the other hand, these rules may not make the game more exciting, more entertaining, NOT giving each team a chance at making a postseason tournament or making the Final Four or winning the championship. Let's face it. Some rules tend to appear excessive, but because anyone can argue competitive balance to have various definitions, we get frequent tinkering to keep everyone involved on their toes and perhaps thinking of the game a bit differently. You basketball junkies without doubt know what I am talking about.

There is only one way to find out whether we will witness the desired effects, and that is to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Let the college basketball season commence!