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Big 4 men's basketball coaches mull potential changes to 3-point line

Shooters keep shooting.

It happened when the NCAA moved the Division I men's basketball 3-point line back one foot for the 2008-09 season. Canisius men's basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon expects shooters to adjust again if a proposal to move the 3-point line back again by more than a foot passes this week.

"Players usually adjust, and if this passes, we probably will adjust again," Witherspoon said. "We can move the line back, and we've done that already. It didn't discourage people from shooting more often, and I think it will happen again."

The 12-person Playing Rules Oversight Panel will vote Wednesday on the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee’s proposal to move the 3-point line to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. The current 3-point line is at 20 feet, 9 inches. The NBA line is at 23 feet, 9 inches.

The change, which was tested in the NIT in the last two seasons, will become official if the oversight panel approves it. It would go into effect for the 2019-20 season in Division I, and for the 2020-21 season in Divisions II and III. It would not be implemented in women’s college basketball.

The last vote to move the line preceded the 2007-08 season, in which 19.1 threes were attempted per game, according to the NCAA. At the time, that was the most since the shot was implemented for the 1986-87 season. This vote follows a season in which the record for 3-pointers per game was set at 22.4, the third consecutive year the number was more than 20.

The men’s basketball coaches from University at Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, Niagara and Canisius spoke to The News in the last week regarding a possible change to the game.

“The more we can go towards the FIBA (the International Basketball Federation) rule, the better off we’re going to be,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “When we play in U18, U19, U20 games, it’s all FIBA rules. It gives a better opportunity to compete. It’s a little bit of a different game, and I think it helps us and helps our game.

"We’re trying to get away from all the contact inside, and the more we can space the floor, the better the game will look. You’ll have more freedom of movement, it will open post play a little more, and it’s really going to show who can shoot and who can’t. It will take the average 3-point shooter out of the game, and it’s going to eliminate the average 3.”

Years MPG APG Pct.
1986-87 3.5 9.2 38.4
1987-88 4 10.4 38.3
1988-89 4.4 11.8 37.8
1989-90 4.7 12.8 36.8
1990-91 5 13.8 36.2
1991-92 5 14 35.6
1992-93 5.3 14.9 35.4
1993-94 5.7 16.5 34.5
1994-95 5.9 17.2 34.4
1995-96 5.8 17.1 34.2
1996-97 5.8 17.1 34
1997-98 6 17.4 34.4
1998-99 5.9 17.4 34.2
1999-2000 6.1 17.7 34.4
2000-01 6.1 17.7 34.6
2001-02 6.3 18.3 34.6
2002-03 6.3 18.1 34.8
2003-04 6.3 18.3 34.6
2004-05 6.4 18.3 34.7
2005-06 6.4 18.4 34.9
2006-07 6.6 18.9 35
2007-08* 6.7 19.1 35.2
2008-09 6.3 18.3 34.4
2009-10 6.3 18.2 34.3
2010-11 6.3 18.2 34.5
2011-12 6.2 18.1 34.4
2012-13 6.2 18.1 34.1
2013-14 6.3 18.2 34.6
2014-15 6.4 18.6 34.5
2015-16 7.11 20.49 34.7
2016-17 7.43 21.13 35.2
2017-18 7.69 21.85 35.2
2018-19 7.75 22.44 35.4
* line moves
Source: NCAA

The change isn't being considered lightly, either. Witherspoon was on the 13-person NCAA’s men’s basketball rules committee when it last considered moving the 3-point line.

“There’s a lot of arduous, tedious work that goes into this,” Witherspoon said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, we should move this back.' It’s looking at the number of shots taken there, the percentage of points, and some of it is involving opinions of what you think it does to the game.

“It took four days to get through that. ... It takes a lot of work to come to that conclusion.”

A change in strategy

The NCAA rules committee contends that moving back the 3-point line would clear the lane for more drives to the rim, make 3-point shots more challenging, and improve offensive spacing.

“Freedom of movement in the game remains important, and we feel this will open up the game," Colorado coach Tad Boyle, the rules committee chairman, told in May. "We believe this will remove some of the congestion on the way to the basket.”

According to the NCAA, the percentage of 3-point shots made in 2008-09 with the expanded line, compared with the previous season, declined from 35.2 percent to 34.4 percent. The percentage of made 3-point field goals steadily increased back to 35.2 percent in Division I by the 2017-18 season.

UB coach Jim Whitesell anticipates that moving the arc will open up the floor, but he isn’t sure if it will lower the number of 3-point attempts. UB made 33.7 percent (344 for 1,022) of its 3-pointers in 2018-19, and he plans to examine how many of those shots would have been taken from behind the international 3-point line.

“You’re definitely going to adjust,” Whitesell said. “Certain guys don’t have the range yet and have to develop that in the offseason."

Whitesell also thought of a logistical effect this could have on facilities.

“Teams that share courts with the women, people are used to the (3-point) line being uniform, and that’s one thing people will have to take into consideration,” Whitesell said. “The game is either at the rim or 3-point shots. No one’s taking the long 2's, and that’s changed. It might open up a little more driving to the rim and stretching the floor out.

“But you have to look at your team and say, 'Who’s capable of shooting this, further out, and what do you want to run?' There’s a base of things you like to do, and understanding that spacing right away.”

Niagara coach Patrick Beilein regards the possible change as something that could help his team, particularly with its spacing in a two-guard offense.

“As you move the line back, that forces the defense to come back out further,” Beilein said. “Guys usually don’t shoot right on the line, anyways, so the guys are just going to go back farther. You adapt. To us, they could keep the line where it is or move it back, but you have to be able to evolve with the changes.”

Evolution of the game

When the rules committee proposed moving the 3-point arc in 2007 – 20 years after the 3-point line was instituted in college basketball – Witherspoon remembers that some coaches were proponents of the change, including a few big names in college basketball.

“Some of those were the most successful coaches we had, and they wanted to change it from the way it was,” Witherspoon said. “I’m not surprised now, because the 3-point arc kind of neutralizes athleticism a bit. The harder that shot is, then the less of an effect it might have. But people will master it from that distance.”

Beilein also believes the change is a positive because players’ roles on the court have changed. In particular, a post player on some teams might not just be a strong inside presence, he might be a versatile long-range shooter.

“You see that the traditional 5-man (center) is no longer,” Beilein said. “Those 5-men out there are very skilled, and they can play on the perimeter. A change like this might affect a few teams, but I’d be shocked if more teams aren’t in favor of it. Just because the line moves back, it doesn’t mean you have to shoot it.”

Schmidt is a proponent of the change because of how the game is played worldwide.

“Some guys are for it, and some of the old-school guys want to keep it the way it is,” Schmidt said. “It’s been instituted because most of the coaches want it. We fought the FIBA stuff for a long time, and the rationale was, ‘Well, we invented the game, so why are we changing it?’ But the game is so international now, and we have to change it.”

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