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Mike Casazza: Huggins offers solutions to what ails college basketball

The Associated Press
West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The overarching problem for college basketball — apart from having so many problems to begin with — is it suffers from an identity crisis.

One-and-done players are difficult to embrace, and their annual exodus hurts the quality of play. We know the names and affiliations of way too many officials, which is as much our fault for paying attention as it is their fault for becoming the centers of attention. The essence of the game is about famed and rising coaches, skillful and underdog players and how leaders and followers come together to succeed. It’s all captured in the wonderful month of March (and a few days of April), but the rules always seem to be about the people with this whistles.

There’s no greater muddiness than this: Who’s in charge?

Oh, it’s the NCAA, but college basketball doesn’t have an authority figure, which is a shame or a sham or both because this is a dire time. The sport needs to be changed, but by whom?

There’s an effort underway get a hold of this problem, and we’ll soon have an oversight committee. It’s a 12-person panel headed by UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero that’s supposed to create a smoother, faster path from problem to solution. They’ll have a wide range of chores, as grand as hypothesizing a new regular-season calendar, as functional as critiquing the selection process for the NCAA tournament and as critical as making suggestions for rules changes.

Who is among the 11 others will be telling, but the plan is to include administrators, maybe a player or two and even some coaches — and that’s where things get interesting. There’s a bizarre bias against quizzing coaches and relying on them to make things happen. That’s not a theory, either. That comes from Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner who is in charge of football’s oversight committee.

He reminded Tuesday that owners make decisions in the NFL instead of coaches, and when he was talking about proposed changes to the college basketball court and its rules, Bowlsby said, “Everybody knows it needs to be done, but if you count on coaches to get it done, it will never get done.”

That environment — “Please, affect change, though we doubt you can” — is what a coach will walk into on that committee. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for someone. It’s for someone who is opinionated and unapologetic and influential and unconcerned with the black hat others have placed atop his head.

“I would love to be on it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “It probably won’t happen, but I would love to be on it.”

Huggins is all the things a coach on that committee ought to be, but while that’s what’s needed, it’s not necessarily what’s desired. Consider this: Freshman guard Daxter Miles said WVU was going to beat Kentucky, and that became a reason to skewer Miles. When the Mountaineers lost by 39 points, Miles was obligated to face the media. So, too, was every other player and coach.

When an official screws up a call or a game, he has to face one reporter in as controlled an environment as can be imagined. Huggins has long believed that if coaches and players are made to answer questions about strategy and decisions, maybe officials ought to, too.

That particular idea might never happen, but that kind of abstract thinking is what’s needed and what he offers.

“I think they need to hear different opinions,” Huggins said. “I just don’t know if they want to.”

Huggins shrugs over some of the suggested rules changes. The NIT trimmed the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 this year, and the results were minimal. Comparing a team’s averages from the regular season with a couple of NIT games saw one or two more possessions per game. That doesn’t guarantee more points, more exciting games or more enjoyable play.

“I think what you’re going to accomplish by lowering the shot clock is creating more bad shots,” said Huggins, who knows his press would benefit greatly from a shorter shot clock or a subsequent decision to give teams eight seconds to cross mid-court instead of 10.

There’s also an idea to make the three-foot arc under the basket a foot bigger to better adjudicate blocks and charges, and that might also mean widening the lane and creating space that could restore post play. But Huggins doesn’t believe a bigger arc accomplishes anything, least of all solving the completely subjective way officials interpret blocks and charges.

“Why would you widen the lane when you don’t have post players as it is?” he said. “We don’t have post players because nobody teaches post play.”

To Huggins, the best way to clean up the game is to clean up the way it’s called.

“Isn’t it true that the old saying was a good official is one you didn’t realize was there?” Huggins said. “That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.”

That idea should to be more popular than it is because the truth is if you’re going to have a discussion about fixing college basketball and exclude the quality of officiating, you don’t belong in the discussion. And that, above all else, is why Huggins belongs at the table.

“It wasn’t long ago they didn’t stop play if I put my hand on you at halfcourt and it didn’t have anything to do with the play,” Huggins said. “If you were going laterally or just bouncing the ball and I didn’t impede your progress to the basket, they never called a foul.

“If we don’t want continued stoppages of play, which is what they say, why would it be that way now? If there’s no advantage gained, why call a foul? If it doesn’t impede somebody, why call it? Maybe we ought to look at that first.”

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