SALT LAKE CITY — As is the case every year, the 2018 National Invitation Tournament provided a platform for the NCAA to experiment with some rule changes.
Among the changes that year was moving the 3-point line back from 20 feet, 9 inches to the distance used in international basketball, 22 feet, 1¾ inches. Both the Utah Runnin’ Utes and BYU Cougars were in the 32-team field, with the Utes making it all the way to the championship game (the Cougars lost in the first round).
After the tournament, participating coaches were asked to complete a survey, which included what they thought of the pushed-back 3-point line. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was one of the coaches in favor of it. After the line was experimented with again in the 2019 NIT, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel announced in June that it officially approved moving the line back permanently.
“I think it’s time to move it out a little bit,” Krystkowiak told the Deseret News. “The game is changing and guys have more range, and I think if you’re going to earn a 3-point shot, we probably need to be scooting it back a little bit so we can kind of separate the shooters from the non-shooters.”
That last point was a general consensus among the in-state Division I head coaches who spoke to the Deseret News about the change, and one of the three key reasons the NCAA gave for making it permanent (the wording in the announcement was to slow “the trend of the 3-point shot becoming too prevalent”).
Indeed, the prevalence of the 3-pointer has skyrocketed in college basketball over the last five years. Whereas during the 2013-14 season just four teams took at least 800 3-pointers, 76 squads did last season, with Krystkowiak’s club firing off 806.
“I do think that with it being back a little bit further, I think coaches are going to want to make sure that guys that are shooting 3s, do they really have the range to be shooting 3s?,” said new UVU coach Mark Madsen, who has spent the last seven years as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’m guessing that coaches will probably do something inside of each program where they figure out, ‘OK, who are the guys that really have this shot in their range,’ because you don’t want to be jacking up bad shots.”
Still, coaches generally don’t feel as though there will suddenly be a big decline in the number of 3-pointers that teams attempt.
“I’m not going to really buy that, to be honest with you,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “I think most kids that are good shooters shoot it from that distance anyway. They’re forced to because teams are getting out on 3-point shooters a little bit more.”
That concept of defenses being forced to go out further to defend 3-point shooters could have a ripple effect the NCAA anticipates with the change. By spreading defenses out, the thought is that it will open up driving lanes more, making the paint less congested like it is in the NBA.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has certainly been a beneficiary of a more spread-out floor in his first two seasons in the NBA, and he offered commentary on Twitter to that effect after the change was announced.
“This is gonna help a lot of kids games!” he wrote. “Spacing is HUGE difference between college and NBA.”
“A lot of offenses these days, everybody plays with four guys on the perimeter most of the time anyway, right?” Rahe said. “Now if you’re going to spread out even further, it’s going to be hard to rotate and it’s going to give guys more opportunities to drive the ball and it’s going to be harder to rotate to get to the rim protection.”
While Rahe said he prefers more defensive battles, having things be more open is just fine with SUU coach Todd Simon, Rahe’s Big Sky Conference counterpart.
“I think the days of wanting to watch the sport be two or three guys standing close to the rim with three guys between them and the rim and throwing the ball off the backboard to each other are long gone,” Simon said. “No one wants to see a free-throw contest. Nobody wants to see a product where it’s just a bunch of big guys banging around on each other and missing two-footers ... to me it’s a way better product with the 3-point prevalence.”
To that point, Rahe feels as though moving back the line is part of the NCAA’s effort to make the game more exciting, given the steady decline in attendance around the country.
“Is there too many 60-55 (final score) games? If you get 80-75, then it’s more exciting and fans might come more,” he said. “I think that’s probably the overall thinking of the Rules Committee, and there might be some truth in that.”
Utah State head coach Craig Smith seconded that idea.3 comments on this story
“It depends on what your perspective is and how you view the game, but as a whole, fans like scoring, fans want high entertainment value and this is a change that theoretically should provide that or help provide that,” he said.
While coaches feel that they in theory have a good idea about how the change will impact the game, they’re looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out once the season begins.
“I think from an offensive point of view, it’s going to be good for our game, but until the numbers start coming in, it’s hard to say,” Krystkowiak said. “I just think it’s a good rule change.”