For decades, 20-minute halves containing frequent back-to-back timeouts due to mandatory TV breaks have been a mainstay in American households during the month of March. This year, the NCAA will begin experimenting with ways to do away with this tradition.
The NCAA has decided that N.C. State and its fellow band of mediocre sad sacks will pull double-duty and serve as guinea pigs during this year’s NIT. The tournament is filled with close, competitive, (some would say) good games, and that (along with the fact it’s forced upon ESPN viewers) is really about all it has going for it. This year, it will also have not-quarters.
College sports’ governing body will use the tournament to experiment with quarter-play in the men’s game, though it stops well short of implementing 10-minute periods. Instead, the game will adopt just one of the rules from quarter-play: team fouls will reset at the 10-minute mark of each half. The NCAA announced its plan in a statement on its website Monday morning, detailing how it plans to implement the new rules:
• Each team is limited to a team total of four personal and technical fouls (excluding administrative technical fouls) during each 10-minute segment of each half.
• The first 10-minute segment of each half will begin when the ball becomes live to begin the half and will end when the game clock reads 10:00. The second segment will begin when the game clock reads 9:59 and ends when the half ends.
• When a team has reached the four-foul limitation, all subsequent personal and technical fouls (excluding administrative technical fouls) will be penalized by two free throw attempts.
• Each team’s foul total will reset to zero when any 10-minute segment has ended.
The idea behind this is that by resetting team fouls at the 10-minute mark, the new rule will bring about the timely benefits of playing four quarters and “retain the unique format of two 20-minute halves.” The shot clock will now also reset to 20 seconds (down from 30) if the defense fouls under that mark.
The experimental changes are all about speeding up the game. Missed one-and-ones lead to interesting end-game situations every night, but the NCAA is aiming for fewer free-throw contests because, hypothetically, teams will be granted more possessions, leading to a faster game, leading to higher scoring, leading to increased viewership, leading to more television and advertising dollars, leading to finally running out of excuses to pay the playe—well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Men’s college basketball is the sole remaining level of American basketball that uses the halves system. It’s a fine system, one that allows for annoying consecutive timeouts and one-and-one competitions while also allowing for teams to truly regroup and play wildly different halves thanks to random four-minute spurts of greatness. But if this is just an experiment, then a positive outcome will likely lead to an announcement about how the 2020 NIT will be experimenting with full-on quarters play.
For those wondering how this will affect the beloved under-16, -12, -8, -4 TV timeouts tucked into the men’s game’s current format, look no further than the new measure adopted by their female counterparts. The women’s game switched from halves to quarters before the 2016 season, and the game has largely been unaffected—UConn’s still really fucking good.