If you’re breathing deeply in March, you’re probably being bombarded with news about the college basketball scene. High school basketball has run its course for the season, but the colleges are deep into "March Madness," the annual race for supremacy in the NCAA.
In the 1930s, when I was a young fan of the local rural high school program, I never missed a chance to see the young men and women perform, even when their games were sometimes staged on an outside court, with lime used to provide the sidelines, at least through the first quarter. After that, it was anyone's guess where the boundaries of the court were located.
The ladies played a game that would appear quite strange to modern-day fans. Three ladies played on one half of the court and formed the defense, while the offense, also three ladies, occupied the other half. A player was allowed one dribble, and then must pass, or in the case of the offense, pass or take a shot. The defense played a rather dull role in the game, trying to get the ball and pass it across the line to the offensive players.
No player was allowed to touch the ball while in the possession of a player on the opposing team. There was also a rule against "face guarding," that is, waving your hands in the opponent's face while she had the ball. It was a technical foul if you joined a teammate in guarding an opposing player. "Double guarding" was the call. Also, you were not allowed to trap an opponent in the corners of the court, being guilty of "entrapment."
After each score, the opposing team was allowed to put the ball in play from the center circle. There was no 3-second rule, so if you happened to have a 6-foot-tall player, although rare, she was allowed to stand under the basket and keep throwing it up until it went in the basket or bounced out to where the guards could recover it. At one time, there was a rule where a fouled player could take her choice of shooting the free throw or taking the ball out of bounds on the sideline. Players were not allowed to come to the sidelines during time-outs but sat on the floor and ate orange slices, and coaches were not allowed to yell instructions to their players during the game.
It is now plain that in those days young ladies were not considered physically fit to run fast, scrap for the ball, dive on the floor or play for long periods of time. I don't remember colleges being represented by ladies teams, and probably track and field was about the only sport ladies could exert themselves. I guess maypole dancing was big. Now, when I see young women in high school, college and professional athletics, I find it hard to believe that women were handicapped for so long by antiquated thinking on the part of the rule-makers in women's sports.
The men's game has embraced some radical changes, too. At one time, a jump ball was called after every score, and today's player would never get from one end of the court to the other while dribbling, since "palming the ball" was a violation and occurred if the dribbler's thumb pointed up while he was dribbling. Now, they seem to carry it about a half step on every possession.
There was no rule about "dunking" the ball, since no players soared above the rim. A "no dunking" rule was inserted into college ball for a short period of time, but found disfavor with the fans, who now consider that play about the most exciting part of the game.
Even college ball into the 1960s and 1970s was called much closer than it is today, and touching an opponent, "hand checking," was a clear foul. As in the ladies game, players were not allowed to come to the sideline on time-outs, sideline coaching was not allowed, and a player entering the game was required to report to the referee, give his or her name, and tell the official the name of the player he or she was replacing. Failure to comply with this rule was also a technical foul
Of course, the size of participants and changes in equipment and uniforms are quite dramatic. The basketball had a large welt of laces on one side where the bladder was inserted and inflated, and caused some rather strange bounces. At one time, uniforms were woolen and shorts were about a foot shorter than today's models. Converse's Chuck Taylors were about the only shoes worn – ladies wore white and men wore black – and knee socks were in style with leather kneepads. There was no 3-point line, and all long shots and free throws were taken underhanded.
All in all, it took basketball a long time to evolve from the peach basket days, but the skill and size of today's player makes it a dire necessity to improve the game as the need arises.