A preface to shot-clock pessimism

I demand gotcha questions on where the candidates stand on the new shot clock. And I vote.

As hoops fans we demand that candidates take a stand on the new shot clock. And we vote.

I don’t know what will happen when the 30-second shot clock is introduced to the college game this November, and I’m prepared to wax fairly adamant and doctrinaire over my ignorance on this matter. The fact is no one knows what will happen, so the best we can do is engage in learned speculation.

Certainly I can be won over to speculating that this whole shot-clock thing is going to end rather badly. Why not? That is, after all, one of three possible outcomes. A year from now I suspect there will be a consensus view to the effect that the new shot clock has either been a success, a mixed blessing/non-event, or a failure. Other things being equal, “I have a bad feeling about this” has roughly a 33 percent chance of being correct. And a one-in-three probability qualifies as a strong likelihood in my book.

Nevertheless I’ve been struck by what’s been offered up in the way of trepidation on this question. Before I sign up for membership in the worried 33 percent, I confess I still have a couple questions that need answers.   Continue reading

How Walter Byers built, fought, lost, and wrote

Byers in 1986. (AP: Cliff Schiappa)

Byers in 1986. (AP: Cliff Schiappa)

Longtime NCAA executive director Walter Byers passed away this week at the age of 93, and his New York Times obituary says that late in his career “he viewed the college sports landscape with increasing cynicism.” Granted I never spoke to the man — as near as I can tell no one did on the record after about 1997 — but I must say this strikes me as incorrect.

Anywhere that lawyers gather to contest the future form and very existence of the NCAA in 2015, there are two histories of college sports close at hand. (Literally.) Taylor Branch wrote one, of course, and Byers authored the other, in 1995.

Both histories were written in anger. Branch will tell you he’s angry that oligopolists are piously mouthing empty platitudes about amateurism while maintaining a cartel that allows them to profit off the sweat of young brows. Byers, conversely, wrote what on the surface is a far more conventional post-retirement jeremiad. At the age of 73 he yelled at a cloud, and did so at some length. Continue reading

The 30-second clock’s a long-overdue solution to a problem we may not have

The last time any adjustment was made to the shot clock, Glenn Robinson was the reigning player of the year. It's been a long time coming.

The last time an adjustment was made to the shot clock was in 1994, when Glenn Robinson was the reigning player of the year. It’s been a while.

Last week the NCAA’s rules committee exceeded my loftiest expectations. Not only did the group recommend the adoption of a 30-second shot clock, it also:

  • Eliminated one second-half timeout
  • Enlarged the restricted area under the basket
  • Made any bench timeout called in close proximity to a scheduled media stoppage the “media timeout” all by itself (no more “bench timeout, four seconds of action, media timeout” sequences)
  • Gave officials the authority to review potential shot-clock violations on made field goals throughout the game
  • Prohibited coaches from calling live-ball timeouts
  • Enabled refs to call personals on players who on replay are found to have faked fouls
  • Reduced the penalty for class B technical fouls (e.g., hanging on the rim) to just one free throw
  • Ended the prohibition on dunking in pregame warmups.

That sound you heard on Friday was Twitter laboring mightily to wield its surgically implanted torches and pitchforks in the face what by any reasonable measure was a rather disconcerting overabundance of wish fulfillment. (How the NCAA can broadcast so much common sense in the span of but a few minutes while also keeping the RPI hooked to life support into a fourth decade is surely a quandary worthy of our finest organizational anthropologists.)  Continue reading

Leaving early can be more rational than you think

Olivier Hanlan is a major-conference player leaving school after his junior season. That may not turn out well. Leaving after his senior season may not have either.

Olivier Hanlan is a major-conference player leaving school after his junior season. That may not turn out well. Leaving after his senior season may not have either. (USA Today)

Each spring when a national champion is crowned, we who follow college basketball reliably turn our collective endeavors toward scolding every non-lottery-track player that announces his intention to leave school early. Comments like “Is there a third round now?” and “Get your passport ready” pop up regularly on Twitter each April.

Basically if I’m a basketball writer and you’re an underclassman who’s not projected to go in the lottery, I’m supposed to tell you to stay in school. The instinct behind that piece of advice is reflexive and genuine. It is also largely unexamined and — in one specific, admittedly qualified and most certainly narrow sense — incorrect.

Continue reading

The four structural hazards of any coaching search

This March the hot young coach generating all the buzz is 52.

This March the hot young coach generating all the buzz is 52. (Getty/Jamie Squire)

The coaching carousel is turning rather slowly this March, with major-conference openings currently available at Alabama, Arizona State and DePaul and nowhere else. Perhaps there’s another shoe or even two that will drop on this front, but for now the salient characteristic of this season’s job market is not only the small number of openings but also the fact that none of these vacancies were created by voluntary coach exits. To really get the carousel going you need a series of guys jumping by choice to greener pastures.

Still, even in a slow year for hirings we will likely see all the traditional characteristics that make hiring a college basketball coach a uniquely challenging endeavor. To my eye these are the four structural hazards in any coaching search:

Tournament warp
Great coaches tend to do well in the NCAA tournament, eventually, but not every team that does well in the NCAA tournament necessarily has a great coach. Not to mention “doing well” in the tournament is by custom defined as making the Sweet 16, but most of the coaches who make the second weekend in any given year aren’t looking to change jobs. Continue reading

You won’t be disappointed

(Getty/Andy Lyons)

(Getty/Andy Lyons)

The NCAA tournament is shockingly close to perfect because fairness is sacrificed so ruthlessly and deliberately at the altar of drama.

In a playoff that exalted fairness above all else, Kentucky would have better than a 34 (Ken) or 41 (Nate) percent chance of winning it all. But this is the business we’ve chosen. It’s a single-elimination tournament with 68 teams. The inherent structure of the event means the answer to “Kentucky or the field?” is the field. The answer to “Incredibly Great Team X or the field?” is very nearly always going to be the field. The NCAA tournament is shockingly close to perfect because death is always just 40 minutes away, even for Kentucky.

If we wanted to pick a “fair” or “real” champion we could shrink the field and kill the single-elimination format. But that’s the NBA’s shtick, isn’t it? If you want larger sample sizes and smoother win probability curves, the next level has you covered. At the next level it’s axiomatic that game seven always pulls in the best ratings. Well, the NCAA tournament is 67 game sevens. Continue reading

Why I’m declaring for the draft

What if instead of just taking the bracket the NCAA gives them, Bill Self and his guys could choose their spot? (Photo: Kansas Men's Basketball)

What if instead of just taking the bracket the NCAA gives them, Bill Self and his guys could choose their spot? (Photo: Kansas Men’s Basketball)

The genre of bracket reactions is clearly in crisis. Quality of analysis has declined for years, and nowadays writers lack the fundamental skills to pen a cogent and trenchant bracket reaction piece. These days talented young writers are striking up relationships with shadowy agents earlier and earlier and are in it just for the big payoff down the line.

Every agent whispers in the young writer’s ear that he or she will be the next Michael Lewis, but inevitably most wash out of the profession entirely and turn to real estate. Stories abound that a wretched few even end up in law school.

Moreover the pacing of these bracket reaction pieces has steadily decreased in recent times and is now at an all-time low. Any polemic points scored in such works are more or less purely accidental. What’s needed is a commissioner of bracket reactions and a change to the post/spike rules. Continue reading