CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The views from here:
The next two favorite sports are NBA hoops (6 percent) and the NHL (5).
It's popularity has slipped from being the favorite of 5 percent to 3.
Hmm. Here's a thought: Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with all the free throws in games. Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with the lack of free flow.
Which takes us back to the rules changes instituted this season. Specifically, it takes us back to the new rules regarding hand checking - the ones disallowing the practice.
Remember those? The intent was to increase scoring and freedom of movement. The plan was that, after an adjustment period, players would learn.
Well, apparently they have not. In 2012-13, each Division I college basketball team averaged 19.8 free throw attempts per game. So far this season, each team is averaging 22.9.
Understand, mind you, the game is much better now than in the old days. (With the exception, that is, of timeouts caused by television.) In 1953, for instance, teams averaged a whopping 32.9 free throw attempts.
Yet one can't help but wonder if the rules change is helping or hurting. Scoring has increased, that's a fact. Last year all teams averaged 67.49 points and each game averaged 135 points. So far this year, teams are averaging 72.1 points and each game 144.1
What it seems the rules makers are missing, though, is we'd rather have more free-flowing games than higher-scoring games pockmarked with more fouls and more play stoppage.
Through games of Sunday, we now have 38.8 fouls per game this season. And that, my friends, is why the sport's popularity has suffered.
Well, within the Big 12 it seems so. Each team in WVU's league is averaging 25.5 free throw attempts, compared to the 22.9 national average. Within Marshall's Conference USA, teams are averaging 25.3, again above the average.
Yet for fan viewing enjoyment, check the ACC. Each team there is putting up just 18.9 free throws per game.
Well, one must understand there's no perfectly clear answer. It's impossible to discern how many fouls are the result of the new hand-check rules. But, before Tuesday night's game at Baylor, WVU was taking an average of 23.1 free throws, which ranked just above average of the 345 teams. So Bob Huggins has done OK.
Marshall is another animal altogether. Tom Herrion has obviously instructed his troops well to draw fouls. The Herd was tied for ninth place among those 345 schools after taking a whopping 593 free throws as of Sunday.
But here's the killer: Herrion obviously hasn't taught his players how to shoot those free throws. While it was ninth in attempts, it was ninth from last in conversion percentage at 61.9. That ranked No. 337, which helps to explain a 7-14 record.
Marshall, meanwhile, has the nation's No. 71 class, according to the service. That, however, is No. 1 among Conference USA teams.
When Griffith followed Terry Bowden at Salem, the school had under $300 with which to recruit. So he put an ad in the Charleston and Pittsburgh newspapers. It read:
"Are you looking for the adventure of a lifetime? Travel, excitement, fun? A free trip every other weekend? Become a Salem College football player."
The ploy turned into a USA Today story, and Corky and Salem were golden.