Opinions mixed on experiment with 30-second clock in college hoops

Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conference coaches voted at their respective spring meetings to experiment with a 30-second shot clock in 2014-15 exhibition games, obviously demonstrating a unified front on what could be a monumental decision. (SEC athletic directors still have to vote on the issue).

But the rest of the country isn’t so unified. In a poll of Division I coaches, opinions were split almost down the middle. Whether a coach is for the reduction from the 35-second clock or against it depends largely on the system he runs. Case in point: two University of Tennessee system coaches offered their opinions for this story. One was for the 30-second clock, the other against. The latter just happens to be an SEC coach, Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall.

“I think our game is the best sport in all of sports just the way it is,” Tyndall said. “It would result in even more bad shots.”

That sentiment wasn’t too surprising, given that, even though Tyndall likes to force tempo defensively with a variety of zone and man-to-man presses after ever made basket or free throw, his offense is a bit more deliberate. His playbook is thicker than the Chicago phone book. Tyndall likes to play fast, but his offense, through orchestrated sets making liberal use of screening action, seeks to find the highest percentage shots it can.

Chattanooga’s Will Wade is all for the 30-second clock, and again, that isn’t a shocker. Wade runs the fast-paced system he helped Shaka Smart create at VCU. Wade calls his system “Chaos,” and like Tyndall, he also likes to press. But he also wants his players to take the fastest good shot they can get. Chaos is a possession game. The more possessions Wade’s team gets, the better chance it has to win.

“The quicker pace of play,” Wade said in answer to the question of why he supports the 30-second clock. But he also recognizes that some teams in Chattanooga’s so-called “mid-major” level of Division I would suffer. Parity, a growing trend in the game, might start to slip.

“[The 30-second clock] would decrease upsets, probably,” Wade said. “Because teams can’t hold the ball and limit possessions.”

For the purpose of breaking this tie, I consulted Belmont coach Rick Byrd, the chairman of the men’s basketball rules committee. The committee is populated with other Division I coaches, but DII and DII coaches are also represented, along with athletic directors and associate conference commissioners. NCAA personnel, including director of officials John W. Adams, are available as sounding boards, as are current game officials.

Byrd didn’t mind sharing his opinion, but he prefaced his comments with this: “Personal feelings are worth one vote, and I have to be careful to keep it that way. Being chairman doesn’t give me any special pulpit to voice my opinions.”

That said, Byrd is against the 30-second clock.

“I like the college game’s ability to have different styles of offense,” Byrd said. “And I think the 35-second clock has done what we wanted it to do, to keep teams from, like they did back in the day, dribbling it around all night, like the old Dean Smith Four Corners.

“But I like to see the Princeton offense, the Wisconsin Swing. We can run a four-out, one in and reverse the ball several times. I don’t really see where reducing the clock from 35 seconds to 30 will have a significant impact on scoring, or even the number of extra possessions. How many times have you seen the shot clock get under five seconds? Not a lot.”

Byrd brought up another good point. Can using the shot clock in exhibition games, against (usually) out-manned opponents, tell us what we need to know?

“In most cases [ACC and SEC teams], in exhibition games, are not going to be playing against defenses that make them struggle to get shots off,” Byrd said. “The better games to judge are the tougher games, conference tournament games, stuff like that. Possessions last longer. People have scouted you and they know what you’re doing. Games are close. Exhibition games won’t be at all like that.”

I countered with experimenting during early-season tournaments, such as the Orlando Classic, in which Tennessee will compete in November, or the Maui Invitational. But Byrd quickly shot that down because those tournaments could have NCAA tournament implications. No one wants a rules experiment to jeopardize their shot at the Big Dance.

Byrd’s solution for a laboratory setting? The postseason NIT.

“Because it’s not going to affect a team’s ability to make the NCAA tournament,” he said.

Makes sense. That’s why he’s the chairman of the rules committee.


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