In sports like soccer, baseball, tennis, and volleyball, an out of bounds occurs when the ball – not the players’ feet – goes out of play. If basketball adopted this same system, or better yet, if it redefined “in bounds” as a player keeping any part of one of their feet in, rather than (as now) having to avoid any part of either of their feet from going out, the NBA would then be able to move the short corner 3 point line back a bit without needing to widen the entire court or reconfigure any arenas’ seating plans.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that you can even fit an equalized 23″9 ft. three-point arc without needing to widen the court at all. NBA courts are 50 feet wide, so there would still be some room to spare even at the narrowest points between a true three-point arc and the sidelines.
You might however have to move a courtside seat or two a bit back in each corner to give more breathing space to shooters, and perhaps also to prevent fans from being crashed into by players running out to contest corner 3s on defense. But two of those corner seats are team benches anyway; and, if you only moved the corner three back a little bit, say 6 inches, rather than the full 1″9 ft. that it would take to create an equalized arc, then you might not even need to adjust any courtside seats.
As an added benefit, this rule change would also mean an end to foot-on-the-line out of bounds calls. This would improve the flow of the game and free up the refs from having to stare at players’ feet whenever the ball is in the corner. There would probably even be fewer of those out of bounds ref reviews that take up too much time right at the end of close games, just when they are least wanted.
There would also be a bit more room, in effect, for players to operate along the baseline, further incentivizing offenses to attack the basket.
There might also be more off-the-dribble corner 3s taken, in contrast to today where the vast majority of corner 3s are catch-and-shoot attempts (which, generally speaking, are less exciting to watch). Off-the-dribble corner 3s are rare today in part because players do not want to play around with the ball in the corners, where they risk putting a smidge of heel out of line. Nor can they easily threaten to drive to basket along the baseline, which could help create the space they might need to take an off-the-dribble corner 3, for basically the same reason.
The only big potential downside to this rule change I can think of would be if it led players to dive into fans more often while chasing balls that are going out of bounds. That would obviously not be good, for players or courtside fans. (For everyone else though, those crashes are the most entertaining of all basketball plays). But the reverse could actually be true: courtside crashes might become less common by changing the out of bounds rule. If players are allowed to step out of bounds so long as they keep part of one of their feet in bounds, they might not need to run at full steam into the sidelines as often as they do now. They might have more runway to simply grab the ball without running into the seats, before the ball hits the floor or falls into the lap of a fan.
Even if that is not the case, a compromise rule change could still be considered instead: keep the out of bounds rule the way it is today, but just don’t call any foot-on-the-line infractions on players when they have possession of the ball. (Or at least, when they have possession of the ball in the corners). That way you could still move the corner 3 back a bit, without needing to widen the court and without having to worry about courtside crashes.
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