The thing about March Madness is that it makes even casual college basketball fans pour over statistics and opinions in hopes of making a successful bracket. NBA fans, like myself, immediately notice the differences between the college and pro games. Some of the differences in college basketball could never be replicated at the NBA level, but others should serve to teach the NBA how to improve its game. Because despite the lucrative TV deal, rising ticket sales and international popularity, the NBA could learn a thing or two from NCAA basketball.
The difference that college basketball fans like to point to most, between their game and the NBA, is that the college players seem to be trying harder. A lot of people attribute this to student-athletes’ love of the game. They’re not playing for money— the reasoning goes— so they must be driven by some passion instead.
The truth probably has more to do with the relative shortness of the college basketball season. While teams play about thirty games a year in college, that number can jump to over one hundred in a single NBA season. A lot of NBA games are played on back-to-back nights, with travel in between.
NBA players can’t bring the same nightly intensity as student-athletes because the pro game takes such a bigger toll on their bodies. It would cost the NBA some money (which means it will likely never happen), but if the league shortened the season its players’ nightly effort would probably increase.
Another difference between the college and pro games is the amount players are allowed to complain to referees before they are penalized. In the NBA a player can voice his displeasure with a call well after the whistle is blown and the play has stopped. In college, officials are much quicker to call a foul on a player who starts complaining.
There seems to be a belief among NBA haters that the league’s players are arrogant and entitled. It’s logical to think this has been fueled at least in part by the nagging that has become commonplace after most calls. If the pros scaled back their complaining outside perceptions of the league could improve.
Another NCAA rule that the NBA would do well to follow is the procedure when a possession is under dispute. In the NBA, possession is decided with a jump ball between the two players involved. This can lead to comical matchups where a 6’10” forward is pitted against a 6’0” guard. The NCAA, however, rotates between teams using a possession arrow. This splits tough calls up, providing each team with a fair number of disputed possessions. The NBA’s jump ball system usually only rewards the taller player in the dispute, something that shouldn’t factor into the actual call at all.
There’s a lot of rules the NBA could not take from the NCAA. With bigger and more athletic players, the NBA needs a shorter shot clock, longer three-point line and wider paint.
But the league shouldn’t be ignoring college basketball’s popularity either. If the NBA was smart, they would recognize the potential for a broader fan base and adjust their game accordingly.
Zach Winn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org