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Do Colleges Need It?


NO: "College players would tense up in the last few seconds. It would tend to rush the game, lead to poor shots and to poor basketball."—Columbia Coach Lou Rossini

YES: "Today, you can put two teams in a telephone booth, and if they didn't want to play ball, the rules permit them to do just that."—Manhattan Coach Ken Norton

One of the most debated questions in college basketball today is whether the colleges should adopt some form of the 24-second rule used by the pros. This sets a time limit on shooting; if a team doesn't shoot within 24 seconds, it loses possession of the ball. Here, on opposite sides of the controversy which is argued at every annual coaches' convention, are two of the leading spokesmen: Coaches Ken Norton of Manhattan and Lou Rossini of Columbia.

NORTON: The college game has now come to the point where we must have a time limit to eliminate the farcical, no-action type of ball. Present rules permit this stalling, and we have appealed to the ethics of the coaching profession to no avail. We're supposed to be teaching competitive action. Too often now the offensive team stands around and the defensive team stands around.

ROSSINI: The type of deep freeze or staller that you're referring to has only happened in a few games, actually....

NORTON: A few games is too many.

ROSSINI: Well, I think the cases we're discussing occur toward the end of a game with a close or tie score. One team has possession and the other is back in a pocket. It's the duty of the defensive team—and I think it's excellent strategy—to go out and get the ball.

NORTON: That's another point. You're bringing up tactics at the end of a game. Here's what I mean: one team has a defensive approach, but the opposing coach feels he's going to play his own game, so he gets the ball right off the opening tap and holds it. Both coaches get stubborn. And you have people reading newspapers and throwing out pennies and the kids on the floor are sitting on the ball or something like that.

ROSSINI: Well, it's possible, but I don't think that kind of thing has been happening enough for us to get alarmed. I feel that college youngsters are not capable of playing a 24-second game and getting good percentage shots off—the type they've been used to up to this point. There would be too many shots that a coach would wince at. We'd be rushing the players.

NORTON: Now, Lou, you know our own coaches' Research Committee has gone into the figures on that. They have discovered that 97% of the time in college games the ball is shot or it changes hands within 12 seconds, and the majority of the time within six seconds. And some coaches offer this as an argument why we don't need a time limit. That's just my point—a time limit wouldn't affect the 97% but it would eliminate the 3%, which I think is hurting the game. It would curb those coaches who are teaching the stall.

ROSSINI: Kenny, there are always side effects of a rule change that you can't see at the time it's made. If we have a time limit, you're going to find the kids tensing up in the last few seconds. As a coach I really feel deeply about this. I don't want a youngster to say to me, "Coach, I know that was a bad shot. But I felt the time was running out and that's the reason I took it." I don't see any excuse for a bad shot. But that's what will happen with your rule.

NORTON: But the statistics show that they're already shooting within 12 seconds....

ROSSINI: Yes, but there's nothing rushing them to shoot, now.

NORTON: Lou, I think it's a weak argument. Look, I was so much in favor of a time limit that the coaches asked me to try it in one of our games. O.K. I brought the 24-second clock up to our gym to prove to my boys they had plenty of time to do what they'd always done within 24 seconds. That's a long time if you go about your business and try to score. We tried patterns and they had no trouble. Now the game itself. The record shows there were only two or three 24-second violations. Now here's what I will go along with. I did find that when my boys went through a play pattern and it didn't work, they didn't think they had time to start over again and they took some bad shots. But, don't forget, it was the first game they played under the rule.

ROSSINI: I'm always ready to admit the possibility of new rules to better the game. But we have to ask do we really need this one and what will be its effect. Don't forget we now have rules that may solve the problem. For example, say my team is playing Manhattan. My team is ahead and has the ball. If Manhattan doesn't come out and try to get the ball, the referee will warn them, and if that doesn't work he'll call a technical foul against them. And if my team doesn't make the initial thrust, the referee will take the ball away and give it to Manhattan.

NORTON: Yes, we are just one step short of a time limit now. But those rules aren't enough. You can still put two teams in a telephone booth, and if they don't want to play ball, the rules permit them to do just that. Those new rules may work, and I hope they do. But how is the official going to judge? Suppose a team takes the technical foul and then drops back again? Some coaches tell youngsters it's better to get beat without playing than to go out and try to beat the other guys. That's the philosophy in a lot of cases.

ROSSINI: I just don't think that a team will say, "Go ahead and call a technical foul." The coach won't let them do that. The defensive team will become a little more aggressive and the offensive team will be forced to circulate.

NORTON: Well, they tried that technical-foul rule in the high schools of Illinois last year and it worked. But I wonder whether the problem with the college coaches is going to be as easily solved as it was with the high schools. I can't see any other real answer than the time limit.

ROSSINI: Here's another thing. With a time limit, ideas on defense will change. You could see the zone defense in every game. And in coaching, I'm not going to say we will change in every area, but we'll have to spend a great deal more time on shooting and fast breaks and less on pattern play. In the limited time I have for coaching, that's what I'd have to do.

NORTON: What difference does it make whether you fast-break or zone or spend more time on the things you mention?

ROSSINI: I think it would definitely be bad for the game.

NORTON: I say it would be good for the game.

ROSSINI: Kenny, if bad shots are taken, it's definitely bad.

NORTON: I can't go along. The same statements were made before we put in the 10-second rule to reduce the area where a team can hold the ball. They said a lot of teams were going to be penalized on the time, on getting the ball over the line, and so on. Today they don't even think about it.

ROSSINI: I still say a time limit would detract from the importance of coaching. And, with the same point in mind, I think the stronger teams will do much better. The weaker teams wouldn't have a chance to play possession ball in the crucial points of a game as they do now.

NORTON: Let's get back to the zone-defense argument. I don't understand the objections to it, except that if you use a certain type of offense against it the result is a dull game to watch and to play. But that type of attack is now old-fashioned against a zone. We're learning more about how to attack the zone because we see it so often now. The more you move and cut against a zone, the more you cut down its effectiveness. So I'm not worried about that possible effect of a time limit.

ROSSINI: Well, you may not be bothered by zones, but I wonder how the spectators will like it. You'll certainly see more of it. It stands to reason the defensive team will go back into a zone and dare the other fellows to take the long shot. You've got to consider all the possible effects of a major rule change like this, though the best argument against it is still the fact that it will rush the game, lead to poor shots, to poor basketball. Let's give the new rules a chance first.

NORTON: Some coaches feel that a time limit will take away some of the control they have over strategy—you know, holding the ball as long as you can because the other team can't score while you have it. Well, you can abuse that privilege and a time limit would put an end to that, and that's why I'm for it.