College basketball is not broke, but the scoreboards needed fixing.
That's something to keep in mind today as practice begins for many teams across the country, which should seem odd considering the calendar has yet to reach October. The early start date—about two weeks earlier than normal—was a change by the NCAA in May to allow for 42 days to get in 30 practices before a team's first game.
The NCAA did everything it could this offseason to put forth a better product, from rule changes inside the game to this more-subtle early start date.
No one is exactly saying this at the NCAA level, but the logic behind such a move is that, instead of cramming a playbook down their players' throats in preparation for the first games, coaches should be focusing more on player development. And that should lead to better basketball.
"You can probably take your time and be a better teacher," Kansas coach Bill Self said at his team's media day on Wednesday.
Self has the pressure of a murderous nonconference schedule that includes Duke at the Champion's Classic in Chicago, three games at the Battle for Atlantis, road games against Colorado and Florida, a game in Kansas City against New Mexico and then home games against Georgetown and San Diego State.
"I think this year we maybe overextended ourselves a little bit," Self said.
It would be tempting for Self to move his team along as fast as possible in an effort to be in midseason form for the nonconference. Instead, Self has March in mind and knows it's important to build at a proper pace.
"Right now there won't be one team in America from a conditioning standpoint that is prepared to practice for a Nov. 1-type practice," Self said. "There's no way you can be, and if you are, those teams will be worn out by February. It's going to be a situation where we will work them hard but there is no reason to have a three-and-a-half hour practices in September."
Many coaches, publicly, are saying the same things as Self. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray told CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander that he will not even use all 30 practices before the first game.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner, whose team does not start practice until Oct. 3, told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that he will give his players a three-day weekend off in the first week to avoid preseason burnout.
The temptation has to be there, however, for coaches that sit on a hotter seat than Self or Pastner.
Remember Billy Gillispie?
When Gillispie was at Texas Tech, he was trying to redeem his career after failing at Kentucky by rebuilding a program that was at the bottom of the Big 12.
What was Gillispie's idea of getting ahead? Out-working everyone else, no matter the circumstances.
Gillispie lost sense of reality, and he ended up ruining his career when he got in trouble for ignoring the rules in place for practice time, in addition to forcing injured players to practice.
Think Gillispie would have abused this system?
Gillispie was an extreme case, but don't be fooled into thinking there are not more Gillispie-Lites out there.
As with any NCAA rule, coaches are going to look for loopholes and find a way to gain a competitive advantage. That's just what coaches do, especially when the difference between a winning and losing season can mean millions.
As John Infante explains over at the Bylaw Blog, even though the rule is meant to create more breaks, there is a way to get in more practice time than before.
Under the previous start date, coaches had five weeks of skill instruction with the full team. Preseason practice then started either three or four weeks before the first permissible date to play a regular season game. Coaches could cram in two four-hour days the first week, followed by either two or three 20-hour weeks. The week of the first game could include up to 17 hours of practice, because you must reserve three hours for the actual contest. In total that meant a maximum of 75 to 95 hours on the court were possible.
Under the new rule, teams now have either two or three weeks of skill instruction with the full-team before the start of preseason practice. Coaches can again squeeze in 8 hours of practice the first Friday and Saturday. Even with the additional day off each week, teams can still practice the full 20 hours per week by going four hours per day for five days. That is followed by a 17-hour week before the first game. This means the new rule allows between 129 and 131 hours of on-court practice before the first game.
The NCAA is usually an easy target as a punching bag, but there is only so much the organization can control. Most rules are made with good intentions, and I actually think this was a good change for the coaches that do not abuse it.
And even if some programs end up pushing the limits in the first couple weeks, those coaches were probably going to find a way to abuse whatever system was in place already.
Best-case scenario: More skill development and pumping the brakes on marathon practices could lead to better basketball down the road.
All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.
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