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Bilas says overhaul in college basketball is in order

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, March 7, 2015, 9:10 p.m.

Jay Bilas has bounced basketballs from coast to coast and across the Atlantic Ocean.

He was a high school All-American in Los Angeles, a player and assistant for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and a professional in Italy and Spain before earning a law degree.

As an Emmy-nominated analyst for ESPN, Bilas is on a different campus several times a week. But it took attending a girls' high school game in Bethesda, Md., for the problems facing the college game to come into focus, he said.

“There was a 30-second shot clock,” he said, almost incredulous at the irony. “But men's college basketball can't squeeze off a shot in 35 seconds.

“We don't think our guys are good enough to get a shot off that quickly.”

Bilas, an ESPN analyst for 20 years, has been one of the game's most outspoken critics. To him, the length of the shot clock is just one of the problems confronting college basketball.

“I don't know if crisis is the right word,” he said, “but we are behind the rest of the world.”

The issues, Bilas said, range from the structure of college basketball's hierarchy to the shot clock resetting after offensive rebounds — one of his pet peeves — to shooters getting held as they run off screens.

“It's a bumping-and-grinding game,” he said.

ESPN colleague Bill Raftery said Bilas' opinions are rooted in his vast knowledge and fondness of the game.

“He has such great insight,” Raftery said. “He says what's on his mind. He has opinions. He's academically and professionally a lawyer. He has more in-depth knowledge than the average announcer.”

Bilas worked a Duke/Florida State game last month that began with five missed 3-pointers, two missed free throws, five turnovers and an off-target layup — followed by a timeout.

The sequence prompted Bilas to tweet: “Over four minutes of play, Florida State leads Duke 2-0. Never seen a media timeout with a score quite like this one. Maybe in baseball.”

“The rules are screwed up,” Bilas told Trib Total Media. “The officiating is screwed up. The officials are doing a good job, but there are so many things we can do to make (the game) cleaner and more enjoyable to watch and to go play.

“And we don't have the will to do it. We certainly don't have the structure.”

He said the NCAA rules committee, composed of coaches and administrators, is of little help.

“I don't think coaches caught up with current issues at stake should be in charge of the rules of the game,” he said. “They don't keep up with the evolution of the game. We seem to think fouling is good defense.”

Bilas likens the solution to renovating a kitchen.

“I would have six months where it would be unpleasant to trudge through the mess,” he said. “But when I'm done, I'm going to have a brand new kitchen and enhance the value of my home.

“We (in basketball) are not willing to go through that.”

Bilas, 51, began formulating strong opinions about college sports at a young age.

While scoring more than 1,000 career points at Duke, he discussed the marriage of academics and athletics on CBS' “Face the Nation.” In 1986, when he wasn't helping lead Duke to the Final Four, he was a panelist with Howard Cosell, internationally known trainer John Underwood and sociologist Harry Edwards on the prestigious National Sports Forum.

Three decades later, he wants a college basketball commissioner to administer the 351 schools and 32 conferences playing at the Division I level.

“If you had a commissioner of college basketball, you could have change, and that could be made with deliberate speed,” he said. “The way everything is structured when you have an idea to make something better, on whose door do you knock? Do I call a member of the rules committee? It's easier to get bread in Russia.”

Bilas said the problems are most prevalent during the regular season. The NCAA Tournament's popularity makes it immune, he said.

“The regular-season product is fantastic, but there is no marketing strategy, no scheduling strategy. Nobody is in charge,” he said. “The tournament is bulletproof and idiotproof, lucky for us. If we keep going down this road, pretty much there will be nothing but the tournament.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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