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Jack McCallum
January 05, 1987
Nineteen-nine is out of line, say most coaches of the new rule
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January 05, 1987

The Three-point Uproar

Nineteen-nine is out of line, say most coaches of the new rule

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Over the last month or so, a monster has been terrorizing college campuses throughout the land. Known as the Three-Pointer, it sounds like something out of a bad B movie. Not since Attack of the 50 ft. Woman have we been so certain of a monster's dimensions. This one measures 19 feet nine inches. It cannot be brought down by heavy artillery or by the love of a beautiful woman, but it is vulnerable to paint remover. It doesn't stalk cheerleaders or prey upon fraternity-row wiseacres. Rather, it blows its hot, lethal breath on basketball coaches, recognizing them, no doubt, by their agonized expressions.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski considers the monster a threat to America's Puritan ethic. "You should have to work hard to get a basket," says Krzyzewski, who played under Bobby Knight at Army, where everything came hard. Dayton's Don Donoher views the three-point shot as symptomatic of America's declining moral climate. "To me, it's just like a game show," says a disgusted Donoher. "In this world we live in now, we're into wild thrills." Worst of all, the three-point monster has left TCU coach Jim Killingsworth staring into the abyss. "If you pick up a paper someday and read that they can't find me," said Killingsworth when asked about the terrible trey, "I'll be over on the Trinity University Bridge...with a rock tied around my neck."

He's kidding. We think.

The 19'9" three-point monster was legislated into existence last April by Dr. Edward S. Steitz and his NCAA rules committee. There are 12 seats on the committee, but right now its member coaches feel more like the judged than the jury. Hard statistical data won't be available until midseason, but as of now the three-pointer has been the most maligned campus development since the SDS camped out in the chancellor's office. True, basketball purists suffered through the "experimental" 1982-83 season when each conference could choose its own three-point line and shot clock. But this is different. This is a mandate. The three-point shot is in the books, baby.

The rule does have its supporters among coaches—one is named Dean, in fact—but the majority don't like it. A rough estimate would be 35% in favor, 65% opposed. At least that was the breakdown when the National Association of Basketball Coaches was polled in the preseason. Steitz's committee took the poll, only to ignore it when it passed the controversial legislation. Perhaps that's why La Salle coach Speedy Morris says, "I think idiots put in the rule."

Villanova coach Rollie Massimino is spearheading a drive to have the monster repealed at next week's NCAA convention in San Diego. Memphis State coach Larry Finch hates the rule, though he admits he would have loved it as a player. Deadpans UT-Chattanooga coach Mack McCarthy, "Before the season I didn't like the rule, but I've changed my mind. Now I hate it."

Steitz is standing bravely against the wind. "There's nothing wrong with the three-pointer that good defense couldn't cure," he says. Steitz is convinced that the three-pointer is here to stay but admits that the 19'9" distance "is not hi concrete." Meaning? "If it needs to be moved back a half foot or a foot," he says, "then that's what we'll do." However, current insurrections like Massimino's appear to be a waste of time. The rule will not be changed before the end of the season, says Steitz, if at all.

Meanwhile, we are left to ponder: How easy is a 19'9" jump shot? Well, back in November Ron Higgins, a reporter for The Memphis Commercial Appeal, rounded up the first three players he saw in a Memphis community center and asked them to launch 10 shots each from the 19'9" range. According to Higgins, two of them made seven and the other made six. Higgins thanked them with soft drinks. Dale Brown might have offered scholarships.

Adoption of the three-point rule sent the Purdue sports information department back to the shot chart of Rick Mount's 61-point game against Iowa on Feb. 28,1970. The SIDs determined that Mount would have scored 74 points had the three-point rule been in effect. (A whole new cottage industry, something like Ted Turner's colorization, is now available for revisionist-minded statisticians.) An intrigued Mount drove to Purdue's Mackey Arena and made 22 of 25 from three-point land. But could he do it with a hand in his face? Probably. Says Grambling coach Bob Hopkins, "I've been washed up for years, but I can make 'em from that distance."

So, obviously, can a whole new ruling class of major college H-O-R-S-E players. Like Maine's Jeff Holmes, who scored 21 points, all on three-pointers, in an 84-81 upset of Michigan State. Or Vanderbilt freshman Scott Draud, who is averaging a point per minute thanks mainly to 22-of-38 three-point shooting. Or Southern Illinois's Doug Novsek, who has thrown up 78 three-point attempts, 43 of which he has made. Or Florida's standstill string bean, Joe Lawrence, who converted 9 of 10 three-point tries in an 83-80 loss to Cal on Saturday. On the season he has made 22 of 40. Asked for his opinion of the rule, Auburn coach Sonny Smith drawled contemptuously, "What's it do? It makes Joe Lawrence a star."

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