When the first ball is tossed up in tomorrow's Tip-off Classic in Springfield, Mass., the college basketball season gets rolling. Going up for the tip against North Carolina State will be Navy's 6 ft. 11 in. David Robinson, the most talked-about player in the country and probably its best. Also on display will be the most controversial newcomer to the college game - the 3-point basket. In a sense, it's not new at all, since 15 conferences have experimented with 3-pointers from varying distances in recent years. The shock came not from the shot's adoption, but from where the rulemakers decided to draw the line, a mere 19 ft. 9 in. from the center of the basket.
Many coaches gasped. A ``Mickey Mouse shot,'' St. John's Lou Carnesecca called it.
The National Basketball Association's 3-point line makes a wider arc, beginning at 22 feet away in the corners and reaching a distance of 23 ft. 9 in. at the center of the court.
The college line is close enough, though, that some fear it might disturb the sport's scoring equilibrium and reward fairly ordinary outside shots. ``Why mess with a game that's at its peak?'' asks Denny Crum, coach of the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals.
The accuracy percentage for 3-pointers from the college distance was a rather high 39 percent during trial runs. There seems to be a strong incentive, therefore, to shoot from the outside, since teams stand to score more points faster that way. And this basically is the intent, to force teams out of tightly packed zone defenses, reduce rough play near the basket, and presumably enhance the sharpshooter's and smaller man's role in the game.
Consequently, stock in players such as Indiana's Steve Alford and Wake Forest's Tyrone Bogues should rise. Neither has exactly been undervalued, but now the 6 ft. 2 in. Alford could be even more valuable because of his sharpshooting, while Bogues, the 5 ft. 3 in. dynamo from Wake Forest, could have a more open floor to motor through. He was a big hit with Spanish fans last summer, who saw him run circles around opponents as a member of the gold medal-winning American team at the world championships.
That competition also served as another showcase for the estimable Robinson, who took Navy to the final eight in last season's 64-team NCAA tournament. Not since Bobby Knight coached at Army has a service academy team made such waves at the national level. But in Robinson, the Middies have an at-first-undetected blue-chipper who has grown and blossomed into a force.
Like Bill Russell, to whom he has often been compared, David is a one-man air defense. Last season he blocked 207 shots, a total exceeded only by a single team, Louisville, which has one of the nation's other premier big men in sophomore Pervis (Never Nervous) Ellison, the NCAA tournament MVP last April.
The question with Robinson is how far can one superstar carry a team against whole reservoirs of talent? Ellison plays in the midst of such a reservoir at Louisville, where the Cardinals always seem to be loaded, and are again this year. One player has said the team's secret to success is having a chance to scrimmage against a whole team of high school All-Americas.
Ellison not only will be surrounded by a roster of seasoned talents, but is expected to share some of the limelight with freshman Felton Spencer, the school's first seven-foot recruit.
The Cardinals have strung together 42 straight winning seasons, a record, and things have only become better under Crum, who has reach the 200- and 300-victory milestones in fewer games than any other coach. By the end of this decade, Louisville may grade out as ``the team of the '80s,'' with championships in '80 and '86, and possibly another before Ellison turns pro.
And speaking of the NBA, a handful of outstanding players have made the dash for the cash before using up their college eligibility. Among the early exiters were St. John's Walter Berry, Syracuse's Pearl Washington, North Carolina State's Chris Washburn, and Louisiana State's John Williams.
Their absences surely affect the outlook for their former teams, as will the influx of waves of new talents. North Carolina supposedly landed one of the best crops of freshmen in the country, which partly explains why the Tar Heels are a preseason No. 1 pick in some quarters. J.R. Reid, a powerfully built 6-9 forward, is one of the most highly sought recruits North Carolina has ever landed, and it has corralled a flock of them over the years.
Other teams that have received the Numero Uno nod by forecasters are Nevada-Las Vegas, Louisville, and Indiana. Generally acknowledged to be in the hunt for end-of-season honors are Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Purdue, and Navy.
If one were filling out an All-America ballot tomorrow, the names of Kenny Smith (North Carolina), Danny Manning (Kansas), and Reggie Williams (Georgetown) would have to join Robinson, Alford, and Ellison among the leading candidates.
There has been almost an alarming degree of coaching turnover within big-time circles. Two main forces seem to be causing all this upheaval - pressures to win that force losing coaches out the door, and the temptation for winning coaches to accept better situations elsewhere. And, of course, one move begets another in a domino-like chain reaction. For instance, when Stan Morrison was ushered out at Southern Cal, he was replaced by Iowa's George Raveling, who was replaced by Stanford's Tom Davis, who was replaced by Montana's Mike Montgomery, etc., etc.
This ripple effect occurs whenever a major-college job must be filled, which has been often since last season. Sixty-six programs have new coaches. Among them are Pittsburgh, Colorado, Florida State, Minnesota, Western Kentucky, Northwestern, Nebraska, Navy, Boston College, Ohio State, and Maryland, where high school mentor Bob Wade has assumed the reins in the wake of turbulent events that followed an in-house investigation and Lefty Driesell's forced resignation.
Such turnover is hardly conducive to stable varsity programs, and tends to point up a double standard. For when an athlete transfers from one school to another, he must sit out a year of intercollegiate competition. A coach, on the other hand, can switch allegiances without missing a beat.
Maybe forcing job-hopping coaches to sit out awhile would slow down the merry-go-round. Asked if he favored adopting a measure similar to the athlete transfer rule, Kentucky head coach Eddie Sutton, voted last season's major-college Coach of the Year by his peers, said, ``Maybe there should be some kind of penalty clause if the coach leaves. Laying out a year, though, I don't know, I think that might be a little severe.'' Players, however, do it all the time, often so they can play in a situation more to their liking.
Of course, where everybody would ultimately like to be at the end of this season is New Orleans, where the Final Four converge to crown a new champion in March.