Saturday, February 7, 2009

Double Three-Point Lines

A novel element of the court in U.S. college basketball this year is the presence of two three-point lines, as a result of the men's game moving its arc one foot behind the prior uniform men's/women's distance and the women not following suit (shown in this photo of Tennessee Lady Vols' coach Pat Summitt speaking on the floor following her 1,000th win).

Beyond whatever damage the double-arc feature does to the court's aesthetic appeal, it can also serve as a distraction or even a source of confusion to people watching a game. I don't know if this has actually happened yet, but conceivably a referee could award the wrong number of points on a shot if he or she momentarily forgets which line applies to the type of game -- men's or women's -- going on.

An article from earlier this season in Raleigh, North Carolina's News and Observer looks at the dual-line issue from the perspective of women's college teams in the area, as illustrated in the following quote:

"It's kind of confusing sometimes," N.C. State senior guard Shayla Fields said. "You look at the men's 3-point line and you look at our 3-point line and you just want to shoot from the men's because it's the line that's out there."

The obvious solution to all the complaints is to go back to a single three-point distance. Duke coach Joanne McCallie apparently favors using the closer distance for both men's and women's:

"It's a funny concept that here we are back with this men/women thing, especially since shooting percentages for men have been down. Like what are they doing backing up the line? That doesn't make any sense.

I would opt for applying the farther distance to both men and women. It's only one foot behind what had been in use for both sexes for many years, and many observers felt the old distance was no longer that challenging.

In reality, however, the new three-point distance for men this year does not seem to be having much impact on the game. Basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy is tracking men's three-point statistics this year compared to last and, as of today, this year's success rate behind the arc is only minimally lower than last year's (34.1% vs. 35.1%). The frequency of three-point attempts (as a percentage of all field-goal attempts) has only been affected slightly, as well.

As long as we're stuck with two lines, the best thing schools can do, in my opinion, is paint the men's and women's lines in clearly contrasting colors, as the above linked Tennessee photo illustrates.

[UPDATE: Someone has tactfully brought to my attention that, on any given court, the men's and women's arcs must be in different colors according to NCAA regulations.]

1 comment:

  1. There is a definite effect of the two-line courts in the women's game. I've personally seen at least a dozen times this year when the officials throw up their arm indicating a three-pointer "late" compared to when they used to with one line, and about 4-6 of them where I thought they were inside BOTH lines. As if they thought "that's a two... oh wait, was she behind the women's line? Ok. Three."