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It’s Time for the NCAA to Extend the 3-Point Line

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While the 2011 edition of the NCAA Tournament has proven to be the craziest in the history of the seeding process one issue has announced itself loud and clear: the 3-point line needs to be extended.

The Southern Conference was the first in the NCAA to allow the use of a 3-point line in 1980 and it was set at 22 feet. 6 years later the NCAA adopted the rule across the board and set line at a uniform distance of 19 feet, 9 inches at the arc radius. Following the 2007-08 season and on the heels of watching three-point percentage rise to comical rates, the NCAA decided to move the line back a foot to it’s current distance of 20 feet, 9 inches at the arc radius; still a full 3 feet shorter than NBA range.

Current 3 Point Lines in the NCAA and NBA

While the 3-point line is the great equalizer and a main reason why teams like Butler and VCU can make improbable runs to the Final Four, it simply must be moved back. It doesn’t necessarily need to go to NBA range, although that’s where I would like to see it; it at least should be moved back at least to the international distance of 22 feet, 2 inches. Aside from reinstating the risk/reward of shooting threes, it would also help to increase spacing, especially in the key, and allow teams to actually run an offense instead of simply putting their bigs under the basket as rebounders for three-point shooters. Getting a bit more technical, the added spacing would mean that a defender helping with double-teams or collapsing to cut off a drive would have farther to go in order to get back and contest the three-ball. In theory this means more penetration as defenders wouldn’t be able to drop into the lane and take away the drive and the three at the same time. They would have to choose one or the other.

From a statistical standpoint, this season the NCAA Division I average three-point percentage is about 34.5%; down slightly from the 35% in the 07-08 season (before they moved the line to 20’9). While that stat may not seem overwhelmingly high, when the 3-point line was adapted nationally there were about 18 three-point attempts per game. Flashing forward to this season, there were about 37 attempts per game and well over 40 in the tournament including an NCAA record 71 three-balls shot in the BYU-Florida Sweet 16 matchup. Taking it a step further, in the NBA where the world’s greatest basketball players showcase their craft there are 31 players (as of this writing) with a 40% three-point percentage or higher. In the NCAA where some elite athletes but even more future accountants, teachers, and lawyers roam, the number of players with over 40% three-point percentage (based on at least 2 attempts per game) is well over 100 with six players over 50%. Those numbers don’t even include BYU’s Jimmer Fredette (39.6%) who routinely shoots and hits from 30 feet.

The result is that NCAA tournament basketball games are more or less three-point contests. Gone are the days where offensive success was determined by a balance between shooting, penetration, and post play. The balance in the game has been lost and the risk/reward from attempting threes is all-but gone because, well, it’s so easy to make them. It’s disheartening to see the increasing number of 4s and 5s camping out behind the line or taking pull-up threes…and even more disheartening to watching them connect with regularity. Teams are no longer worried about missing threes instead they will just continue to shoot them understanding that at some point they will start falling.

Not to single out VCU and Butler because they certainly aren’t alone and what they both have done on the biggest stage with the same rules while playing against teams with better athletes is more than impressive. However, during VCU’s improbable four game march to the Final Four (first four game excluded as it was a toss up), they have attempted 215 field goals. Out of those 215 field goals, 97 of them were threes (45.12%). Butler has more or less used the same plan to move themselves in to the Final Four; out of their 211 field goal attempts, 104 were threes (49.29%). Give them credit, they both knew that their only shot at winning was to knock them down, and knock them down they have; if they keep it up, one of them may very well be hanging a National Championship banner next Tuesday. This isn’t meant to pick on the little guys. Cinderella stories are a huge part of the lore in college basketball and there are a lot of reasons why mid-majors have made the leap from also-rans to contenders, but with the three-point line, more or less an extended free throw, it gives every team, even inferior ones a punchers chance and it won’t be too long until a 16-seed takes out a 1-seed.

The need to push the line back is further promulgated by word that the NCAA may move the women’s three-point line back to 20’9 (currently it’s at 19’9; same in the WNBA). I don’t the backing of an anatomy professor to prove that men and women are athletically different and having the three-point line be equal for them is absurd. Taking it a step further, maybe in 1986 when athletes and conditioning were far less studied and honed a sub 20-foot three-point line made sense, but nowadays, where weight training and scientifically based exercise programs are started in middle-school, college players are nearly identical to their NBA peers. The proof is in the product. With more and more players opting for the one-and-done approach to NCAA basketball, having a three-foot difference between the three-point lines makes no sense at all.

While putting every game on television this year has resulted in the highest rated overall tournament ratings in history, according to early polling reports, this may be one of the least watched Final Fours. This means, CBS and their 11 billion dollar deal to broadcast the tournament will not be pleased. Like everything else in life, following the money trail I may very well get my wish and the line pushed back which will result in a better overall product. Thankfully for once the NCAA acting in their own best interest may pay off for the fans.



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