May 25, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The recent Conference USA spring meetings were “mostly about basketball issues,” Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said.
And at those gulfside sessions in Destin, Fla., the men’s basketball coaches in the league ran a fastbreak to what Thundering Herd Coach Tom Herrion called “one thing we thought was very important.”
The hoop coaches pushed to have all 16 teams in the C-USA Tournament next March in El Paso, Texas, where UTEP’s bid for the 2014 event had been based upon the league’s former membership of 12 schools.
The 16-team field got the approval of athletic directors, and the C-USA Board of Directors – university presidents – is expected to approve that among other issues on June 10.
“It was very important for us as coaches to get all 16 teams in the tournament,” said Herrion, who is pointed toward his fourth season on the Herd bench. “All 16 teams play the regular season, so all 16 should get the chance to play in the tournament.
“Look at teams, like a Western Kentucky, the last couple years, teams that pop up (as lower seeds and win conference tournaments and NCAA automatic bids). They reach the (NCAA) after they struggled earlier, for whatever reason, injuries, whatever. We felt as coaches that all teams have a chance.”
Herrion said veteran FAU Coach Mike Jarvis made a strong presentation to athletic directors about the inclusion of all 16 teams. Herrion said he also thought it important to have the full membership represented in the tournament with so many new members – eight in 2013-14 – entering the conference. He said it wouldn’t “be right” to welcome the new members by ending their seasons without tournament play.
The Herd coach echoed Hamrick in saying he expected a bracket format that includes double byes for seeds 1-4 and a single bye for seeds 5-8, with first-round matchups of seeds 9-16, 10-15, 11-14 and 12-13.
“There was a lot of discussion on the format of the tournament,” Herrion said, “but first and foremost, our desire as a group, the coaches, was getting all 16 teams into the tournament.
“There was strong sentiment in double-bye for 1-4, and single bye for 5-8, and that’s probably the format that makes the most sense.”
Herrion said that he would like to see the number of regular-season conference games expanded from the current 16 in future seasons. C-USA is expected to have 14 members in 2014-15, when Western Kentucky joins the league and Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane have moved to the AAC.
Hamrick said earlier this week that he favors a divisional format with teams playing each team home-and-home inside the division, and once across division lines, for a 19-game conference season.
Herrion said the only issue he had with that is “the crooked number is kind of different.”
The Herd coach said 16 games isn’t enough. He said he’d have no problem with 18, 19, or even 20 C-USA dates, because any expansion would lessen the number of non-conference games the Herd must schedule.
“When we play 16 league games like now, and you want to play in an exempt event like we do, you can play 31 (regular-season) games,” Herrion said. “That means we have to play almost as many non-league games as conference games.
“Scheduling is one of the most difficult things we do.”
The Herd coach also commented on recent changes by the NCAA on practice dates, and by the Men’s Basketball Rules Committee on the block-charge call and flagrant fouls involving elbows.
Men’s basketball teams will add two weeks to the preseason practice period, meaning for the upcoming season, teams may open drills Sept. 27 – or six weeks prior to the Nov. 8 opening games. Teams may practice 30 times in 42 days.
“It does stretch our season out longer,” Herrion said. “That said now, when the new dates come into play, you’re already going pretty hard into conditioning anyway. The big thing is more coaches will have to manage their practice schedule to take more days off. Hopefully, that will help the kids.”
The rules committee altered the block-charge rule to try and aid officials on what has been a call with a great degree of difficulty. The change will give officials more time to determine the call.
The Rules Committee proposed that a defensive player should not be permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has started his upward motion with the ball in an attempt to shoot or pass the ball. If the defensive player in not in legal guarding position by the time the offensive player starts his upward motion, it is a block.
The rule now allows a defender to be in legal guarding position before the offensive player lifts from the floor. The committee believes the change will allow for more offensive freedom, provide more clarity for officials on the difficult call and bring more balance to the game.
“The block/charge rule, it’s arguably still one of the toughest calls to make,” Herrion said. “It’s yet to be determined how the adjustments might impact actually how the call is made.”
The Rules Committee hopes to bring more offensive flow to the game. The average number of points per team in a Division I men’s game this past season was 67.5, the lowest average since the pre-shot clock season of 1981-82. The points-per-game average has dropped in each of the last four seasons.
The other rule change that caught Herrion’s attention in particular was a change to the elbow rule on flagrant fouls, where a strict interpretation – no gray area – was in place for contact by an elbow above a defender’s shoulders for a flagrant 1 or 2 foul.
Now, the officials may go to the courtside monitor to determine if the contact is flagrant 1, flagrant 2, a common foul, or no foul. When the monitor is used, it cannot be a common foul, only one of the other three options.
There has been a strong feeling among coaches that some types of elbow contact didn’t deserve the automatic flagrant 1 penalty. Now, the officials have more leeway on the decision.
“They’re trying to be a little bit more discriminate on the elbow rule, where there’s some flexibility,” Herrion said. “They won’t be so hard and fast on certain type of contact. That’s good.”
The Rules Committee proposals will go to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel for approval in mid-June.