- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- What keeps the Big Ten's coaches up at night? What fresh horror haunts their dreams?
If you said the NCAA's new, much-hyped contact rules -- designed to reduce handchecking, bumping and charges, part of an effort to open up the stifled college game -- well, you're close. But for most, it's not so much the rules themselves. It's the introduction of a variable outside their control.
Coaches, you see, tend to be control freaks. And while, within the Big Ten coaching ranks, there might be some measure of mild disagreement over the actual merit of the new rules, the far scarier thing for all involved is not knowing what to expect -- especially early in the season.
"It's a little concerning," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "But a little bit of a concern that first couple of weeks since we have a couple of big games, and I'm sure there will be pressure on the officials, pressure on the players, pressure on the coaches, on how it's called and what you do. We'll see."
The first of Michigan State's big games -- against newly named Associated Press No. 1 Kentucky -- comes on Nov. 12, when the Big Ten's unanimous preseason favorite (and preseason player of the year Gary Harris) will take on six McDonald's All Americans. Izzo said he'd heard stories from his coaching buddies that scrimmages with officials -- who coaches bring in to help simulate the new rules to their players -- have led to "70, 80, 90 free throws being shot."
"That's a little scary," Izzo said.
He's not alone. Indeed, nearly every coach addressed the new rules changes multiple times here Thursday; it was easily the most discussed topic, with no close second.
"If you're telling me the way the games are going to be called and exhibition games are the way they're going to call them in the Big Ten, we're going to have a lot of good players watching basketball," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "I don't think that will sit with people in this room, with players and coaches across the country. It's definitely not going to sit with the fans."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged that risk in his news conference Thursday. Delany, who led the Big Ten's research staff on a deep analytical dive into statistical trends in the sport over the past 50 years -- and used Final Four video to plot where those trends corresponded to rules changes -- supports the new rules and has advocated for them. But if the game is so adversely affected in the short term, as players figure out what is and is not a foul, the outrage could make the NCAA's perfectly reasonable attempt to make college basketball less physical could short-circuit by December.
"What's going to be hard is to get sustainability," Delany said. "We really do have three separate seasons -- we have November and December, conference season and March. I think if we're honest with ourselves, the NCAA tournament [officiating] is different than two months in the conference.
"I think everyone's gotten the message that the game needs to be a bit more open," Delany said. "We have to get predictability and sustainability."
Count Wisconsin's Bo Ryan among those least concerned. That might have something to do with Ryan's defensive principles -- his teams happily trade fewer fouls for fewer turnovers -- but he also chalked it up to faith in his colleagues.
"Most of us were teachers; that's how we got into coaching," Ryan said. "So if a rule is made, you teach to the rule."
Painter agreed, but not without a revealing admission.
"We're trying to be better in terms of position defense," he said. "Keeping the ball in front of us without using our hands."
Fifteen years ago, that was called "playing defense."