When you ask basketball coaches and players about their reactions to the harsher enforcement of the NCAA hand check rule, the responses will undoubtedly vary. However, the initial reaction always remains the same; there’s a pause, followed by a befuddled look of “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Across the country, every college basketball team is struggling with foul trouble and the officiating has been instructed by the NCAA to more strictly enforce the hand check rule that has been in place for some time.
The intent of enforcing this rule was to allow the game to move more freely and decrease the amount of injuries that college basketball players suffer. However, there have been substantially more unintended effects than anticipated.
The rule as it is written in the NCAA rulebook is as follows:
Art. 1. A player shall not hold, displace, push, charge, trip or impede the progress
of an opponent by extending arm(s), shoulder(s), hip(s) or knee(s) or by bending
his own body into other than a normal position or by using any unreasonably
Art. 2. A player shall not contact an opponent with his hand unless such contact
is only with the opponent’s hand while it is on the ball and is incidental to an
attempt to play the ball
Art. 4. The following acts constitute a foul when committed against a player with
a. Keeping a hand or forearm on an opponent;
b. Putting two hands on an opponent.
c. Continually jabbing an opponent by extending an arm(s) and placing a hand
or forearm on the opponent;
d. Using an arm bar to impede the progress of a dribbler.
With these rules being fully enforced, and in some cases over-enforced, the number of fouls being called in college basketball games have skyrocketed. Seeing a game with a total of 40 or 50 fouls is not something that is unusual as of this season and everyone has their own opinion on the matter.
Head coach Ryun Williams: “I think the intention of the rules was to provide freedom of movement. They want the game to move more freely to the basket to increase scoring, to increase attendance, to get more people in the seats probably. We’ve always coached a physical style of defense so its a big adjustment but that’s the word we use a lot with our kids. You have to adjust. You have to adjust to the rule, you have to adjust to how a game is officiated. So we’re teaching things differently. We’re trying to figure out how to be disruptive without being so physical. So its a tough thing.”
Women’s forward Sam Martin: “It’s definitely been hard to adjust to the rule because being a post player is usually a lot more physical. It’s definitely a habit that I’ve had since like seventh grade, so its been an adjustment and coaches are working with me every day in practice. It’s just something that I have to be aware of.”
Men’s guard Daniel Bejarano: “It is a lot different and it gets you out of your game just having to stop every 20 or 30 seconds. It’s like a football game, it’s hard.”
How athletes are having to change their style of playing:
Men’s forward Marcus Holt: “I’m learning how to play physical but without my hands. It’s tough as a big guy so its definitely been an adjustment but I just have to move my feet better and think more about what I’m doing but I think I’ll be able to adjust to it.”
Women’s forward Elin Gustavsson: “It’s been tough for me to adjust to coming over from Sweden, but I just think that you have to play smarter.”
Men’s forward Gerson Santo: “Coming from Brazil, we have rules where you can’t touch people even a little bit. They were a little bit overboard and it was hard how to figure out how to guard enough. Being a big man in the post I always have to try to figure how to get in front of a player without touching them with my hands and I have to learn how to move my feet quickly. So coach always talks to me about being quicker than the player. You have to know what he’s going to do before him.”
Perception on officiating:
Men’s guard Daniel Bejarano: “It’s just crazy right now. I think the refs are going overboard a little bit, but they also need to be even and after our game at UTEP, I don’t think they were even. Every ref is different and right now they’re not calling it the same with this rule.”
Men’s forward Marcus Holt: “I think the officiating will get better with time. Right now its a bit inconsistent with what they call. Depending on what time of the game it is, like if there’s two minutes remaining they might not call it as compared to when its earlier in the game.”
How it’s going to change the game of basketball:
Men’s forward JJ Avila: “I think you’re going to see less three point shooting, which I guess is alright, but games will be longer because of free throws. I think there will be less defense and higher scoring games. But you don’t want to foul them because every little thing is being called as a foul.”
Men’s forward Marcus Holt: “It’s definitely going to change the game, I mean its a lot less physical and free throws are more important because people are getting into foul trouble so early. So I think its going to change how people guard each other, hands will have to be free all the time. I definitely think its going to have a big impact.”
Even though the initial reactions to this harsher enforcement are less than favorable, one common word that is being used across the board is “adjustment.” Every player in the NCAA is struggling in the same capacity as their opponent and it is just a matter of changing habits and learning how to play the game with more finesse and less brawn.
In the opinion of senior Sam Martin, it just comes down to the reality of the situation, “They’re not going to change the rule, we have to adjust to it.”
Basketball Beat Reporter Hannah Cornish can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @hmcornish.