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With much support, 3-point line could be moving

Posted: Sunday May 1, 2005 12:49PM; Updated: Monday May 2, 2005 2:38PM
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Three-point line moving back?
There is much support for moving the three-point line back: 69 percent of D-I coaches are in favor of moving the line to 20 feet, 6 inches.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NCAA men's basketball rules committee will convene Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Indianapolis, where its members will again take up a compelling question: Where do we draw the line?

That would be the 3-point line, implemented in 1986 at the oft-maligned distance of 19-foot, 9 inches. That's well short of the NBA's arc at 23 feet, 9 inches, and closer than the 20-foot,  6-inch line used in international play. Now, after years of dillying, dallying and experimenting, the committee appears ready to permanently move the 3-point line to the international distance. "I've asked a lot of people about this, and the consensus seems to be, let's do it," says rules committee member Fran Dunphy, the head coach at Penn.

Indeed, there's little question of the popular support to move the line back to 20 feet, 6 inches. Last year, the rules committee, which conducts an annual survey, asked respondents whether they favored the extension. Among Division I coaches, 69 percent were either strongly or somewhat in favor. The percentages were even higher among officials (77 percent) and conference commissioners (88 percent). This year, the committee asked for opinions on a package that would also include widening the lane to 18 feet, up three feet from the current width -- a change that would theoretically cut down on physical play. The result: 67 percent of coaches and 75 percent of officials offered strong or somewhat strong support. That's what Dunphy means by a consensus.

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However, that doesn't mean that this change will be announced when the committee makes its decision public Thursday. In the first place, the argument that the shot is too easy is undercut by the facts. The committee has experimented with the line at 20 feet, 6 inches during certain pre-conference games the past two seasons, but the number of 3-point attempts and the percentages made went relatively unchanged. In a random sample of 25 games played last season, teams attempted 38 3-pointers and converted 34.7 percent at 19 feet, 9 inches; they attempted 34.4 3-pointers and converted 34.3 percent at 20 feet, 6 inches. Not much difference there.

Furthermore, if the shot is too easy, why have shooting percentages declined since it was put in place? During the first season with the 3-point shot, teams made 38.4 percent from behind the arc and 46.4 percent overall. Last season, they made 34.7 percent from 3 and 43.8 percent overall. If anything, that would demonstrate the line should be moved in, not out.

And this being the NCAA, there are all sorts of logistical, bureaucratic and political factors to consider. In the first place, any change will affect all three divisions, and the Division II and III ranks tend to be less enthusiastic about the change. Second, the women's game has to be considered. Its rules committee will also convene in Indy this week, and if they don't go along with the change, that would create the aesthetic problem of having two lines on almost every court. That is especially debilitating to the effort to widen the lane, because the women don't have a rough-play problem and have been opposed to that change. And don't forget the impact the change would have on high school basketball. (A representative from the national high school federation will sit it on the meetings this week as well.)