SQ #7--Time for a Rule Change

Summer Quandaries #7
Aug 7—54 Days to camp

Best Rule Change

In the continuing drone of Shaquille reverberations I offer this small idea for those of you with enough stamina to read/think beyond the latest Shaq sound bite. When Dr. Naismith invented basketball as a fitness activity for rainy days, there were no formal dimensions for the court, the famous peach basket (only replaced 15 years later by a metal hoop and backboard) required the ball to be retrieved after each made shot—an infrequent occurrence, teams were however many showed up for gym class divided by two, and there was no real dribbling (which only changed near the middle of last century after manufacturing improved enough to produce a ball round enough to bounce true.) A hundred and twenty years later and dribbling dominates the game, shots are made in a veritable rain, and the increase in size and mobility of the players has vastly shrunk the court whose dimensions have remained unchanged since the NBA was formed in 1949.

Now basketball rules have hardly been unchanging. The lane has been broadened from 6’ to 12’ in 1951 (usually attributed to the dominance of George Mikan the first “big” man at 6’6”), and then again in 1964 to
its current 16’ (usually attributed to the dominance of Wilt Chamberlain the first of the “giant” centers). The two rules changes with the largest impact probably have been the incorporation of the 24-second clock in 1954 and the adoption of the three-point line in 1979. As far as affecting the game, many would argue for the inclusion of the increasingly strict restrictions on hand-checking with changes in 1978, 1994, and again in 2004.

The combination of the increasing role of the three-point shot and the unchanging width of the court has led to a sad fact that seems to break the flow half a dozen times each game. The court is 50’ wide (49.21 in International ball) and the three-point line ranges out 22’ from the basket. That leaves only three feet between the line at the corner and the sideline. Several times each game a player will catch a pass in the corner and in trying to be set for the three point shot, will have a foot on the sidelines. Most players try to set their feet to maintain a wide, and steady, base. If they are catching a pass from a guard out front, in facing the passer they find themselves playing tippie-toe to both remain behind the three-point line and not to step out of bounds while catching the pass or swinging into their shot.

In my opinion it is silly that the league has not widened the court by two or three feet giving the players another foot or 18” of leeway for employing the corner three. This won’t require redesigning arenas. In fact for most sites of play it will require not much more than a little paint. The impact on the game, the viewing, and the refereeing will be minimal, other than eliminating 5 or 6 turnovers that represent neither faux pas on the part of the offense nor superlative by the defense.