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Naismith of the Three
Created: 11/16/2004 1:27:39 PM

In the last two decades, the three-point shot has meant fundamental change for college basketball. It has changed offense, defense, the transition game, practice, coaches, the playground, recruiting and even the fans.

The introduction of the three-point shot in college basketball will experience an anniversary this season. Believe it or not, the first time the three-point stripe was painted down was Feb. 7, 1945, when Columbia met Fordham in the Morningside Heights gym in Manhattan.

Hall of Fame Coach Howard Hobson was coaching at the University of Oregon at the time, but as a member of the rules committee he lobbied for the introduction of the bonus shot. Hobson, who would later become the head coach at Yale and earn graduate and doctoral degrees at Columbia, was joined in the suggestion by 1940 Columbia graduate Julian Rice.

That game featured a number of rules revisions, which were designed to limit the effectiveness of a tall center and eliminate zone defenses. Not only did shots beyond 21 feet count for three points, but the foul lane was widened from six to 12 feet and a foul shooter had an option for a two-point free throw from the 21-foot line.

Hobson's three-pointer was similar to today's in every way. The shooter had to start the shot with both feet behind the arc and release the shot before landing. A shot with a toe on the line was not a three-pointer. And the officials' signals were remarkably similar to today's. The instructions called for the refs to signal a three-point basket by raising three fingers on two hands, as opposed to raising two fingers on one hand for a two-pointer.

Rice's suggestion called for the bonus free throw. A player could not score more than three points in a possession in the new rules, meaning that when he was fouled he had the option to try a one- or a two-point free throw. If he made a two-point free throw, he could only attempt a one-pointer on the second try. Also, if a player made a basket and was fouled, he could not attempt the bonus shot.

Columbia won the game, 73-58, as the two teams combined for 20 three-pointers and eight 'long fouls.' Without the bonus points, Columbia would have won by the exact same margin, 59-44. The Lions made 11 of the three-pointers with John Profant (four) and Norman Skinner (three) making the most. Skinner, averaging 14 points a game, was the star, scoring 26 for the 9-8 Lions. But Profant was the player who benefitted the most, scoring 22 points -- 16 more than his typical game.

At halftime about 250 of the 1,000 in attendance voted on the innovations. About 70 percent favored the widen lane while about 60 percent liked the three-point shot and the two-point free throw. Louis Effrat of the New York Times reported that the coaches, officials and writers did not feel the same way. Effrat concluded that the experiment would not catch on, writing "There is more than enough confusion in basketball without adding to it by modifying the present rules."

While the crowd was delighted with the game (Columbia's 73 points were a school record), the lane wouldn't change for another 11 years and the next three-pointer in the college game wouldn't be made until 1980. The birth of the three-pointer at Columbia was:

16 years before the short-lived American Basketball League used it (1961)
23 years before the American Basketball Association popularized it (1968)
34 years before the NBA decided to use it (1979)
35 years before it was used again in a college basketball game (1980)
41 years before college basketball adopted it (1986)

Hobson, who won nearly 500 college basketball games, would later suggest a 30-second play clock for college basketball before the NBA would establish that rule. Although the powers of college basketball might have sneered at his suggestions back then, most could hardly recognize the game without those rules today.

Related Schools: Columbia
Related Sports: Basketball
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