History of the 3 point shot
The first shot in a revolution that drastically changed the face
of college basketball was fired 20 years ago and the Southern Conference
was at the forefront of that revolution.
On Nov. 29, 1980, Western Carolina's Ronnie Carr drilled a three-point
field goal, the first in the history of college basketball. Few
rule changes have ever impacted the college game the way the introduction
of the three-point field goal did 20 years ago. And without the
SoCon'ss leadership role in testing the experimental rule, the
trey might not exist today.
Carr's basket was made at 7:06 p.m. with 16:09 to play in the
first half as Western Carolina hosted Middle Tennessee State at
Reid Gym in Cullowhee, N.C. A crowd of 2,750 was on hand to witness
the 23-foot bomb from deep in the left corner that helped the Cats
go on to post a 77-70 win over the Blue Raiders. Carr, a sophomore
at the time, finished the game with 30 points on 14 of 30 shooting
from the floor.
The ball, a photograph of the shot and a video tape of the play
were all send to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
The revolution began in July, 1980 when the National Collegiate
Athletic Association granted the Southern Conference permission
to experiment with the three-point field goal during the 1980-81
season. The 22-foot line would be in effect for all 72 regular
season SoCon games as well as 18 selected non-league contests.
Reaction from the SoCon coaches was mixed at first. Then-Citadel
head coach Les Robinson, now the school's athletics director, said "It
does distract from the game to a degree. It goes against the teaching
of most coaches who tell their players to work for only the high
percentage shot. But I'm for it. The players today are getting
so much bigger, we need something to spread things out a little
more. The three-point goal is designed to open things up on the
Furman head coach Eddie Holbrook got right to the point: "It's
a coach's nightmare and a spectator's delight."
Bobby Cremins, the head coach at Appalachian State during the
'80-81 season, said "The first time out, I took a shot and
made it. It must be too close."
Up until the 1980-81 season, the three-pointer had been used with
success in the old American Basketball Association and had been
introduced the previous season in the National Basketball Association
on a trial basis. The only other time the long distance shot was
used in college basketball was during a 1945 game between Fordham
That contest in '45 was the brainchild of Howard Hobson who had
lobbied college basketball to adopt the three-point field goal
for dozens of years. The former head coach at the University of
Oregon when the Ducks won the first NCAA championship in 1939,
Hobson is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame after winning
495 career games.
Over the course of the 1980-81 season, SoCon teams combined to
make 146 of 467 field goals for a 31.3 success rate. In contrast,
during the 1999-2000 season, 10 of 12 Southern Conference teams
made at least 146 three's while the league as a whole made 2,082
treys in 6,074 attempts. The percentage in 2000 rose slightly from
1980 to 34.3 percent. Marshall led the SoCon with 100 successful
three-pointers as a team in 1980. In 2000, the late Rufus Leach
of Appalachian State led the SoCon with 103 while Wofford as a
team led the SoCon with 214.
In 1980, Davidson made just 12 of 26 three-pointers over the course
of the entire season. Against the University of California on Jan.
2, 2000, the Wildcats made 16 three's, the most by a SoCon club
last season. In '80-81, no SoCon team made more than six triples
in a single game. In 2000, Leach, Wofford'ss Ian Chadwick, and
Chattanooga's Rashun Coleman all made seven or more in at least
The experimental rule focused a great deal of national attention
on the Southern Conference during the '80-81 season. Sports Illustrated
devoted nearly two entire pages to the experiment. The Sporting
News ran a nearly full page story on the new rule. Basketball writers
from across the country flocked to SoCon games to witness first
hand this new gimmick. Media
reaction, like that of the coaches, was mixed at first. The experiment
prompted one writer to call the SoCon a "guinea pig." Others
called it "earth-shaking," and "a booster shot."
"There's no question that exposure is one of the paramount
reasons we are doing this," Furman head coach Eddie Holbrook
told Roger Jackson of Sports Illustrated.
The league's coaches took different approaches to incorporating
the three into their offensive schemes. Western Carolina's Steve
Cottrell and Marshall's Bob Zuffelato made it a normal part of
their offensive game plan. But Zuffelato did so reluctantly.
"I'm basically a conservative," Zuffelato told Stan
Olson in February, 1981. "I think college basketball is unique,
the most exciting brand of basketball there is. And I don't think
it needs gimmicks like the three-point goal, the 30-second clock
or the 11-foot basket. The shot is a low percentage one, which
is just the opposite of what we teach and preach."
Most coaches used the triple as a comeback tool and it worked:
seven SoCon games went into overtime as a direct result of three-point
While a proponent of the rule, WCUs Steve Cottrell said early
in the season "I bet I'll lose a game on it before the end
of the year." Two days later, the Catamounts led Furman for
most of the second half before the Paladins' Michael Hunt began
firing three's. He made five three-pointers in a row to tie the
game and send it into overtime where the Paladins won, 85-81. That
was one of three games Furman won in 1980-81 as a direct result
of the new shot. Mel Daniel tossed in a 25-footer against Chattanooga
to tie the game and send it into overtime where the Paladins prevailed,
96-90. Furman also won an overtime contest with Marshall after
the Herd's George Washington had hit a three with nine seconds
left in regulation to send the contest into an extra period.
Robinson, who went on to coach at East Tennessee State and North
Carolina State before returning to The Citadel this fall, still
likes the long shot.
"The three-point shot has done one-half of what it was supposed
to do," said Robinson this week. "Yes, it has created
more excitement and it has helped sell more tickets, but it has
not cleaned up the post play and it hasn't altered the post defenses
as much. It is good for comebacks, and has had a similar effect
on the game as a dunk, but there's much more skill involved with
the three-pointer as compared to the dunk. Personally, I like the
three-point shot and like where it is today (19'9"). In all
my meetings with the (NCAA) Basketball Committee, there has never
been any talk about doing away with the three-pointer."