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Another point about the shorter shot clock

8/30/2012

On Tuesday, Myron and I happily debated the merits of shortening the current 35-second clock. I am in favor of a shorter college shot clock, while Myron is happy with the current setup, and is wary of change for a variety of very legitimate reasons. The argument generated its fair share of discussion -- 1,000-plus comments on the post itself, and Twitter replies ranging from funny to accusatory to confused to generally agreeable, and everywhere in between. (Granted, there isn't exactly much basketball to talk about these days. Save us, Metal Gear Solid movie; you're our only hope!)

Much of the anti-24-second crowd (for lack of a better nom de guerre) seemed to think that my desire to shorten the shot clock had to do with some misplaced affinity for the NBA. This is partly true. I do have an affinity for the NBA. In fact, I love it. It is not true in so far as I do not believe this affinity to be misplaced. The NBA has its flaws, of course, but in general I think it is the best basketball in the world, played by the world's best players.

Of course, I also love the college game, both for its similarities (it is basketball, after all, and I love basketball) and its differences (shorter games, better atmospheres, varied offensive and defensive styles, a mind-blowing postseason). By contrast, many college basketball fans seem to instinctively hate the NBA. They perceive generous traveling rules and selfish play and a systemic lack of defense and isolation-only offense, hallmarks of an NBA that once existed but has long since gone out of style. I have never really understood this hate, but it feels especially exaggerated now.

To clarify: No, I don't want college basketball to become the NBA. I simply want college basketball to be better. Which is, based on personal preference, a synonym for "faster." I want teams to move the ball up the floor and get into their secondary break action quickly, so they still have time to run an offensive set or two, because in general I think basketball (like soccer) is at its best when it is both structured and free-flowing, when it both allows contrasting styles but rewards fluidity. The two -- like a love of the NBA and a love of college hoops -- need not be mutually exclusive.

Anyway, there is one point I didn't think of when it comes to the benefits of a shorter shot clock, and it comes by way of @TheHomageShow, who sent the following in an email:

I completely agree that we need to change to a 24 second shot clock and I appreciate your column about it, but there is a BIG BIG point that would strengthen your case that you overlooked. A 24 second shot clock would help ease the grind that games hit in the last two minutes. The team that's ahead wouldn't be able to waste as much time and the team that's behind wouldn't have to start fouling as early. Shortening the shot clock would actually force teams to play the game longer before hitting that wall. If you write about this point, I think it would really shift support in favor of the new clock.

I'm not so sure about that last point -- most of the counterarguments were of the immovable variety, though some (and I like this) favored a 30-second-clock compromise -- but @TheHomageShow's point is nonetheless valid, and one I overlooked.

One of the biggest complaints we all have about the game of basketball in general, both at the NBA and college levels, is late-game stoppages that rob us of a certain amount of suspense. Whistles and fouls on every possession. TV breaks. Overcoaching via timeout. The game manages to be thrilling in spite of these things, not because of them, but it would be even more exciting if the game stopped less frequently in its final two minutes.

We might never convince coaches to trust their teams and stop calling timeouts -- if NBA coaches can't do it, forget about college -- but a 24-second clock might pay its biggest entertainment dividends in the final minutes of games, by at least marginally reducing the amount of time a winning team can burn off the clock.

It's one theory, anyway. What do you think?