Should basketball hoop be raised higher?

Ed Steitz doesn't really want to spoil things for anybody, but if he could change one basketball rule, it would be to raise the rim from 10 to 11 1/2 or 12 feet off the floor.

So who, today's rim-rattling dunksters will ask, is this revolutionary bent on destroying their game?

A 25-year member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's basketball rules committee, Steitz hardly considers himself a flaming radical. His idea, he explained before the NCAA championship game between Louisville and UCLA, is simply meant to preserve the sport as originally conceived.

As athletic director of Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., Steitz is particularly aware of his responsibility in this regard. Basketball was invented at the Springfield YMCA by Dr. James Naismith in 1891.

The height of the peach basket used at that time, Steitz points out, was determined arbitrarily. To secure the basket it was nailed to the edge of a wooden running track, which just happened to be 10 feet above the court.

The height, Naismith discovered, was ideal for a sport in which the ball was to be shot into the basket from floor level.

Today's ever-increasing number of seven- footers, Steitz feels, could eventually rob the game of some of its shooting artistry unless these big men are forced to use more finesse.

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that no one wants to experiment with a higher basket. Oh, occasionally, an elevated rim will be given a one-game trial run, but a long-term test drive has always been scorned.

"About eight years ago we almost had the Big 10 set to play with an 11 1/2 -foot-high basket," Steitz recalls. "The conference voted in favor of trying it in the spring, but changed its mind right before the season began."

The Big 10 developed cold feet with the realization that a higher basket would throw off its players come NCAA tournament time and a return to a 10-foot hoop.

About the only way to legislate a higher basket would be by blanket decree, but the rules committee has historically been a conservative body that acts only when evidence dictating change is available. Consequently, the committee encourages experimentation with new rules.

In recent years, the Southwest Conference has conducted a coolly received test that eliminates all jump balls, while the Sun Belt Conference has tested a 45-second shooting clock, which is shut off during the last five minutes.

Though Steitz doesn't see the basket height changing in the near future, he does feel the free-throw lane may be widened in the '80s from 12 to 14 feet (the width the pros use).

Such a step would decongest the lane area, which offensive players can occupy only three seconds at a time. The lane, incidentally, went from 6 to 12 feet wide in 1955, shortly before Wilt Chamberlain arrived at Kansas.

As the game's first notable seven-footer, Chamberlain gave the rules committee a preview of its need to neutralize the big man. For a while, a favorite Kansas in-bounds play saw the Jayhawks tear-drop the ball over the backboard. Wilt would catch it, then drop it through the hoop. Some Big Eight opponents were threatening to put up chicken wire above the backboard until a rule preventing such passes was adopted.

In 1967 the rules committee took another step to cut down the big man's advantage by outlawing the dunk. Many have called this the Alcindor rule, yet Steitz says it was not directly aimed at UCLA's 7 ft. 2 in. Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) but at all players practicing point-blank shooting.

Because of its popularity with coaches, fans, and players, however, the dunk was reinstated in 1976. It is still banned during warmups, however -- a restriction aimed at ensuring that pre-game showboating won't result in bent rims and delayed tap-offs.

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