Indiana has Steve Alford. Georgetown, Reggie Williams. San Jose State, Ricky Berry. If the Spartans' stat crew is to be believed, Berry would have been last season's national three-point champ—he hit 24 of his 40 shots from 19'9" or beyond, or 60%.
Tennessee has Tony White. Illinois, Doug Altenberger. Montana State, Kral Ferch. It is the last word on the revolutionary dimensions of the three-point rule that college basketball will now have to take seriously someone named Kral Ferch.
We're not talking about an NBA-style three-pointer here, but a shot of win-a-teddy-bear-at-the-carnival length. The college line is tangent to the top of the foul circle, a spot from which players have been routinely launching shots since Hank Luisetti's day. The three-point line in the pros is drawn at 23'9" (22' in the corners) and those are four extremely meaningful feet. In the NBA, a three-point shot is a heave. Fifty percent of all two-point attempts in the NBA found their mark last season, while only 28% of the three-pointers went in. In the two NCAA Division I leagues that experimented with a three-point line in 1985-86, the Big Sky Conference and the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, two-point accuracy was nearly identical to the NBA's, while three-pointers hit the jackpot a whopping 39% of the time.
Still got that calculator out? Check for yourself. One hundred college three-point shots falling at a 39% rate will score you 117 points, while the same number of two-point attempts at 49% net only 98. Now all those coaches who swear by John Wooden's adage that the most important constant of a winning team is its shooting percentage are asking themselves, Which shooting percentage?
Actually, most coaches are first asking another question: Why was the three-point rule enacted in the first place? And why did it come virtually without warning? The NCAA Rules Committeemen responsible for this thunderbolt—secretary-editor Steitz, New Mexico coach Gary Colson, Texas Tech's Gerald Myers, Missouri's Norm Stewart, among others—insist that their decision was a "considered" one (is there any other kind?). The committee said it had analyzed the data from experiments with three-point lines at various distances during the past five seasons in 20 different conferences. Well, here are some data: In 1984-85, when the Atlantic 10 used a 19'9" three-point line, West Virginia led the conference in long-range accuracy, making 46% of its attempts. The Mountaineers would have had to shoot 69% from two-point range to make it worth their while to do anything but let loose from afar on each possession.
Three-point partisans will argue that the game tends to seek its own level—that as three-pointers are launched, defenses will logically be drawn out from packed-in zones and into pressure man-to-mans, and the pass inside will become a more appealing option. Of course. That's why, when the ACC experimented in 1983 with a chippie 17'9" three-pointer, Georgia Tech and N.C. State, congenital zone teams, led the league in stopping three-pointers, while the man-to-man disciples at Duke were dead last.
Steitz brandishes results of questionnaires he circulated among coaches and officials in leagues that experimented with the three-point shot. They favored it by a two-to-one margin. Yet the Rules Committee's own survey, taken before their impetuous move last April, showed only 35% of all NCAA coaches favoring a three-point shot. Predictably, 65% of the coaches are furious. Iowa State's Johnny Orr calls the three-point shot "ridiculous." George Raveling, the new coach at USC, says, "Next thing you know we'll have trained seals out there." Adds Ohio State's Gary Williams, "Why not put in a second line and go for four points?" Texas-El Paso's Don (Bear) Haskins is so opposed to the change that he refused to allow a three-point line to be painted on the gym floor for his players' preseason pickup games. Call it the rule that turned the Bear into the Mule.
Coaches complain that:
•The rule was rammed down their throats. Says Joe Vancisin, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, "I can't see where 35 percent in favor out of 742 votes is any kind of mandate."
•A shot from the top of the key is too short to be worth three points. "For me, it's a layup," says the Bruins' Miller. "I can almost throw it in underhand from 19'9".