Strange things are happening in college basketball this year. North Carolina Coach Dean Smith is telling his team it's O.K. to pull up on the fast break and take a jump shot. In one game, Virginia's Ralph Sampson grabbed an offensive rebound, dribbled away from the basket and tried a corner jumper rather than turn, dribble once and stuff. Generally speaking, in fact, the Atlantic Coast Conference, which used to have CAUTION, DON'T SHOOT stamped on its basketballs, has become a Spalding launching pad. Word is that World B. Free wants to be traded to Clemson.
Elsewhere in this season of widespread rules experimentation, Jacksonville University lost a game because Forward Tom Terrell wears size 19 sneakers. Officials are having frantic confabs as they seek unanimity on calls. What is this, the NFL? Three-point jump shots are being called both "home runs" and "hat tricks." What is this, major league baseball? The NHL?
Everybody has a one-liner on the three-point shot. Indiana's Bobby Knight: "The place for the three-point shot is between the reptile cages and the lion cages in the Lincoln Park Zoo." Maryland's Lefty Driesell: "I'm 51 years old and I can make that shot." North Carolina State's Jim Valvano: "My mama came out of the stands the other night and knocked in three of four from 19 feet."
As in any good drama, the rules changes have created heroes (e.g., Guard Scott Simcik of Alabama in Birmingham, who probably wouldn't be playing except for his 57.1% three-point shooting), villains (every official who has failed to recognize a three-point attempt) and tragic figures (Guard Dereck Whittenburg of North Carolina State who broke his right foot while attempting a three-pointer in the second half of a game against Virginia after he had made seven such shots in a 27-point first half). And for comic relief there's Terrell, the freshman with the oversized sneakers. Jacksonville Coach Bobby Wenzel thought for a split second that Terrell's buzzer-beater had sent his team into overtime against South Florida on Jan. 8, but the tips of Terrell's size 19s were judged across the line so the shot counted only two points instead of three. "If he had been a size 12, it would have been a tied game," lamented Wenzel.
Those are the kinds of wondrous things we've been hearing and seeing, and enough conclusions have been drawn already to permit an educated guess as to what will happen in April when the NCAA Rules Committee makes plans for next year. To the chagrin of traditionalists, there will be continued experimentation in 1983-84, but it won't include as many leagues as it has this year—12 of the NCAA's 29 major conferences. "If we made a mistake, it was in granting too many conferences the right to experiment," says Ed Steitz of Springfield College, editor and national interpreter of the NCAA Rules Committee. "Next year I think you'll see the committee minimizing the experimentation."
There will continue to be some variations in rules from conference to conference, but 1983-84 will not be the officials' nightmare that this season has been, with four different three-point zones and three different shot clocks in use. You can bet Ralph Sampson's NBA signing bonus that the 30-second clock used in the ACC and Ohio Valley Conference will be ditched (in favor of the 40- or 45-second clock), as well as the ACC's three-point distance of 17'9" from the top of the circle to the center of the basket. The most distant three-point line this season is in Big Sky country—how appropriate—where a 22-foot heave is required.
The ACC has been the focus of controversy because it adopted the most radical changes—the brief time span of a 30-second clock and the closest-in three-point line. Oddly, the ACC's penchant for freezing the ball had been the strongest reason for the experimentation in the first place. Now the conference is so permissive on offense that Jerry Falwell may well be planning an investigation. Jerry might want to start with the North Carolina-Virginia game of Jan. 15, which the Tar Heels won 101-95. Quite a contrast to the famous UNC-UVa stall-ball game of last year, which Carolina won 47-45.
Indeed, game scores last year in the ACC averaged only 118.5 points. Through 24 conference games played by last weekend, that figure had soared to 149.3, a 26.0% increase. According to the most recent NCAA statistics, scoring is up 14.1% in the four other conferences with both a shot clock and a three-point line. In the four with a line only, scoring is up 9.6%, and in the three with a clock only, scoring is up 6.2%. Among the rest of the Division I leagues and major independents, scoring is up 4.0%. Taken all together, standpatters and experimenters. Division I teams are averaging 142.6 points per game, an improvement of 7.3 points over last year's final mark, which was the lowest in 30 years. The offensive-minded rulesmakers are getting what they wanted.
Until he was hurt, N.C. State's Whittenburg was certainly doing his part for high scoring. At the time of his injury he had made 23 of 40 three-point attempts for a remarkable 57.5%. But not even Whittenburg approves of the ACC's dinky three-point distance. "Where it is now, it's become too big a thing in every game," says Whittenburg. "The three-pointer, as I see it, should be more of a factor in a close win, not in each game." You've just heard Exxon come out against corporate tax breaks.
However, the offensive uprising in the ACC does have its supporters, with Dean Smith hoisting the banner. While the game has changed profoundly in the ACC, it has not in conferences like the Big East, which adopted a 45-second clock and no three-pointer.