Belmont coach Rick Byrd has seen plenty of changes in college basketball

College basketball has changed quite a bit over the last 40 years.

Rick Byrd has seen the evidence.

Byrd, who has been the head coach at Belmont University since 1986, said basketball is a much more physical game now than it was when he landed his first head coaching gig at Maryville (Tenn.) College in 1978.

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Belmont basketball coach Rick Byrd during the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s so incremental, that you don’t realize how much things change,” said Byrd, who has been the chairman of the NCAA rules committee the last two years. “One day we were watching old games, from the ’80s and ’90s, and watching those games, it really struck me how much less physical the game was then.”

“It’s changed a lot, but I’m not sure I would’ve realized how much had I not watched those games.

“There are bigger, better athletes on the same sized floor and the game has become far more physical,” he added. “It’s coached more physically, played more physically and officiated more physically.”

The NCAA rule book has also grown larger over the last 30 years. Staying within the rules at a school like Belmont, which has a strong entrepreneurship program, can be difficult.

“There are just so many ways you can go wrong even when you’re trying to read the rules and do them all the right way,” Byrd told me during a phone interview. “It’s a fine line between doing what you want to do and doing it right. There are so many minute parts of the rules. You can do this, but you can’t do that. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s not always easy.”

Byrd, who has led the Bruins to the NCAA Tournament seven times since 2006, said another change to college hoops is the one-and-done players, with young stars who are only using college basketball as a necessary stepping stone to the NBA.

“There are some in basketball who have created this, ‘It’s more about me than anything else,’” Byrd said. “When I say ‘me,’ I mean the recruiting part. It’s changed how you recruit. We don’t go after kids who have that kind of an attitude. In that regard, I don’t think there’s any difference between how I coach my teams now and how I did when I started in the ’70s.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

About Ron Clements

Wisconsin native, former Marine, Summa Cum Laude graduate of East Carolina University and a working sports journalist since 1999.