Control freaks: what basketball coaches can learn from increased tempo and Lawrence of Arabia, the SEC’s TV newtork and the new revenue gap

CLEMSON – As I wrote today in the Post & Courier, the game of college basketball is screeching to halt. A decade ago, in the 2002-03, season 135 Division I teams averaged at least 70 possessions per game. This season, 58 teams are averaging at least 70 possessions per game.

We’ve often seen a coach extend his arms with palms facing toward the court communicating to his players, non-verbally, to slow it down.


It’s in large part a trust issue. Clemson coach Brad Brownell admitted to me yesterday that he’s part of a growing-number of control freaks in the coaching business.

“Maybe coaches are becoming a little bit more of control freaks to have a say in what’s going on,” Brownell said. “With players’ skill levels not being quite as good, every possession seems to be really important, so you try to maximize it by slowing things down and getting what you want.”

The speed setting in college basketball is set on “grumpy turtle”

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one, right?

VMI coach Duggar Baucom, who runs an up-tempo offense, doesn’t think players have enough freedom.

“I call them joystick coaches,” Baucom told “They try to orchestrate every movement instead of letting ’em play. There’s teams in our league that run 20 seconds of false motion to get the shot clock down, and then run a set. It becomes kind of like a wrestling match.”

Now you can win slowing the game down.

Brownell has taken three different programs to the NCAA Tournament with tempos of 255th or slower in Division I basketball. And in theory it makes sense to try to eliminate possessions when you have inferior offensive talent.

But I wonder if Clemson — and other underdog programs – would be best served increasing the tempo? (Malcolm Gladwell thinks so)

First point: it’s a lot easier to score in transition than in half-court situations. Clemson reached three straight NCAA appearances under Oliver Purnell because his full-court pressure system created havoc and more points per possession (and more possessions per game).VMI and West Liberty are using full court pressure to create turnovers and more points in transition, and wins. West Liberty is averaging a nation-best 1.3 points per possession.

Second point: as more and more teams are slowing it down, operating at a faster tempo could create a competitive advantage as fewer teams are prepared for it from a conditioning and mental-reps standpoint. It’s kind of like running the triple option in football.

Third point: when you are an up-tempo transition team size becomes less important. You don’t need 6-11 post players. You need players that can run, handle the ball and shoot. And it is the talented 6-foot-9-plus talents that are the hardest players to acquire for Clemson. You can gain an advantage by being smaller and more agile. Just ask this guy …

Lawrence of Arabia would have run fullcourt pressure if he coached basketball. Think it doesn’t work? Arkansas of the 1990s and Rick Pitino beg to differ.

Wrote Gladwell: When (T.E.) Lawrence looked at his ragtag band of Bedouin fighters he realized that a direct attack on Medina would never succeed. And why did taking the city matter, anyway? The Turks sat in Medina “on the defensive, immobile.” There were so many of them, consuming so much food and fuel and water, that they could hardly make a major move across the desert. Instead of attacking the Turks at their point of strength, Lawrence reasoned, he ought to attack them where they were weak—along the vast, largely unguarded length of railway line that was their connection to Damascus. Instead of focusing his attention on Medina, he should wage war over the broadest territory possible.

Fourth point: scoring and action is more fun to watch, and athletic directors from Dan Radakovich to Eric Hyman and growing more and more concerned about declining basketball attendance. Football programs with up-tempo offenses sell more tickets (really).

“There are (slow-tempo) teams that gotta do what they gotta do to win,” says Baucom, whose 2006-07 Virginia Military Institute Keydets were the last Division I squad to average 100 points per game. “But I’ll be honest with you: If they’re on TV, I’ll just turn it over to FX and watch Justified.”


Speaking of Eric Hyman, the Texas A & M AD recently suggested the SEC Network, which is set to debut in 2014, will be a ‘game changer’

And it could very well be.

The Big Ten with its own network and ESPN deal dwarfs every other conference’s media revenue at roughly $40 million per year. Those dollars are why Maryland jumped from the ACC. And now the SEC, with the nation’s best football product, stands to significantly increase its revenue.

This is a big, big problem for the ACC that no one seems to be speaking about. While Dan Radakovich told us the ACC is exploring its own network  the problem is the ACC has negotiated away all of its basketball and football TV rights. The Big Ten holds select football and basketball rights, as does the Big 12, and the SEC will gain third-tier rights back by 2014. If you don’t have live football and basketball on your network, who is going to watch?

The ACC would have to partner up with ESPN to form its own network and understandably ESPN is lukewarm. After all, ESPN already paid to control all of these rights.

It means the ACC could be surrounded by conferences with lucrative TV networks that generate $20-$25 million per year per program. It’s a big competitive disadvantage. The ACC could have made a significant error in not retaining some football and basketball rights. It might very well have failed to forecast the future.

2 thoughts on “Control freaks: what basketball coaches can learn from increased tempo and Lawrence of Arabia, the SEC’s TV newtork and the new revenue gap

    • The ACC, I think, thought it could get the most exposure possible by giving ESPN the most volume possible, but I think this is going to be a mistake in the long term.

      Every major conference is going to wind up with its own network

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