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Purdue Indiana Basketball

Purdue's 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas shoots over Indiana's Freddie McSwain Jr. during their game on Jan. 28 in Bloomington, Ind. Fifty years ago, there was talk of raising the basket to 12 feet because of big men such as Haas.

Darron Cummings, Associated Press

As numbers go 50 is a nice round one. In years, it is a mile marker on life's freeway that lends itself to anniversary celebrations.

Or, sometimes it is a small item in the newspaper that catches the eye ... 50 years ago (1968). You'll find it on page B2 of Sunday's Pantagraph under the heading, From Pages Past.

Jeff Findley compiles such things and his research reveals that 50 years ago, an article in this newspaper delved into the merits of a 12-foot basket.

It read, in part: "Illinois State coach Jim Collie and Illinois Wesleyan coach Dennis Bridges concur with an overwhelming majority of college basketball coaches that the 12-foot-high basket has no place in their sport. The two coaches were among 614 polled."

Asked Saturday about the survey, the retired Bridges said, "I don't remember that."

Who can blame him? It was 50 years ago. 

Yet, Bridges was dead on when he added, "I think that might have been some writer's question."

Indeed, Thad Johnson, sports editor of the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise at the time, had polled the coaches for the Associated Press. Ninety-one percent (559) were against the 12-foot basket. 

"I don't think it was ever brought up seriously before the NCAA," Bridges said.

Maybe, but raising the basket from 10 to 12 feet had enough support for Sports Illustrated to do a cover story for its Dec. 4, 1967 issue titled: "The Case for the 12-foot Basket."

Supporters of the change felt scoring was becoming too easy because of an increased number of tall players ... as in seven-foot and taller. The best was UCLA's 7-2 Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

The dominant Alcindor had led UCLA to a 30-0 record and the national title the previous year. Prior to the 1967-68 season, the NCAA outlawed the dunk in college basketball, a rule which stood until 1976.

Others pushed for raising the rim as well.

"College basketball is in grave danger of sinking in a mire of boredom," then-California athletic director Pete Newell told Sports Illustrated's Mervin Hyman.

"It was meant to be a game of balanced skills, but they are fast becoming overshadowed by the tall player with his control of rebounds, easy tip-ins and shot-blocking. The game is cluttering itself up around him."

The movement was a plea on behalf of the little man, or at least those considered "average" in size. Their place in the game was in jeopardy, proponents said.

Collie and Bridges weren't buying it. Collie, who passed away in 2006, formed a 12-point response opposing the change based on a study conducted the previous year by an ISU student for his master's thesis.

Collie told then-Pantagraph sportswriter Steve Vogel the results of the study/experiments "showed that the big man will still have the advantage with a higher basket."

And Bridges?

As a former guard at Octavia High School and IWU, he knew something about the plight of the "little" guy.

"It would just take the basket from him," he told Vogel. "It just takes him farther away from it. Maybe I'm just a little conservative, but I like the basket where it is. I think 10 foot is a good spot."

Fifty years later it's still there, though, as Bridges points out, "Now there are tons of Lew Alcindors (in height)."

The push for raising the basket was not limited to the 1960s. In 1954, the NBA's Milwaukee Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers played a game with a 12-foot rim. Lakers' 6-10 star George Mikan had 12 points and was 2 of 14 from the field. Likely, George was not a fan.

Sports Illustrated reported the concept dated as early as 1932, when Coach Forrest (Phog) Allen of Kansas suggested it.

"In the early 1930s," he told Sports Illustrated, "I foresaw that the influx into the game of more and more big men would ultimately make a travesty of basketball. Actually, I had a 7-footer in 1927. I was convinced that eventually 12-foot baskets would be necessary."

Inventor James Naismith's game has evolved in many ways ... some good, some bad. Yet, the object is the same as when he nailed peach baskets to a railing at the Springfield College gym in 1891: put the ball in a basket 10 feet off the floor.

Will that change?

Maybe in 50 years.

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred



Sports Editor

Sports Editor for The Pantagraph.

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