After being inundated with hoops for four straight days on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, Americans arrive at some basic points of agreement about college basketball.
The serious hoophead and the casual sports fan might not follow college basketball with the same level of intensity from November through early April, but at this time of year, they’re both paying attention. They would readily agree that there are just too many gosh-darn timeouts and fouls at the end of a remotely close contest.
This situation cries out for some long-overdue solutions. Without fanfare or any sort of deep background, let’s establish five simple fixes for an entertaining sport that can be made a lot better.
5 – THREE TIMEOUTS PER GAME, NOT FIVE
Should there be any debate about this? With eight media timeouts per game, are we really going to have a turf battle over how many additional clock-stopping poker chips coaches should carry during a game? Let’s throw coaches a bone: Eliminate the “first half use-it-or-lose-it timeout” and give coaches “permanent” timeouts they carry the whole game. Also, use the media-timeout rule which exists in women’s college basketball, referenced here by Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing.
Are we good here? I hope so.
Let’s move this along and not take another timeout.
4 – ELIMINATE THE ONE-AND-ONE
It’s great for perpetuating and enhancing the drama of the final minutes of a close game. It’s a great way to increase the odds that a foul will lead to a scoreless possession for a team that leads.
It won a national championship for Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in 1983.
It should not have a place in the sport — not anymore.
The one-and-one free throw concept rewards fouling, and when any sport’s rules reward an act that is something more than a mere violation — fouling ostensibly harms and/or impedes an opposing player; there is an intrusive component to fouling which does not exist in other strategic gambits such as the intentional walk in baseball or the intentional safety in football — those rules need to be removed.
The front end of the one-and-one — in which one miss is equivalent to two misses — gives trailing teams a gateway to a comeback by means of hacking an opposing player’s arm. This is outdated and not a logical extension of any sane concept. Intrusive acts by Team A in violation of the rules should not thrust an inordinate amount of pressure on a player from Team B to have to make that front end after an eighth team foul with 31 seconds left in a game Team B leads by two points. Enough.
3 – SIX FOULS PER PLAYER
This rule change would seem to work in opposition to the rest of the recommended rule changes on this list. However, this is an entertainment business, and fans pay good money to see the top players play. Yes, North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried committed one of the worst blunders of this NCAA tournament by leaving in T.J. Warren to give a fifth and disqualifying foul in overtime versus Saint Louis last Thursday, but of course, this whole notion of “giving fouls” is what’s centrally problematic.
Increasing the player limit to six fouls is meant for reasons other than enabling coaches to “give fouls,” but it would spare us the charade of substitutions meant only for the purpose of having a player foul. This “give a foul” situation was also witnessed at the ends of two first halves from the past Saturday: Pittsburgh-Florida and Michigan-Texas (both Pittsburgh and Michigan failed to give fouls, enabling Florida and Texas to get good scoring opportunities).
The larger and more central purpose of enabling players to have six fouls, and not five, is to ensure that the stars have more of a place in the biggest games of the season. The parade of touch fouls called on Ohio State’s Greg Oden and Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert in the 2007 Final Four national semifinal in Atlanta represented one of the great letdowns in Final Four history. That’s just one of the many occasions in which an unduly tight whistle deprived fans and viewers of the entertainment they hoped to see.
2 – AUTOMATED TIMING SYSTEMS PLUS TENTHS OF SECONDS ON SHOT CLOCKS
There were entirely too many timing problems over the weekend, never more so than in the North Carolina-Iowa State game and its confused, cluttered conclusion. One college basketball blogger put the matter very succinctly. There’s just no reason we can’t have efficient timing systems aided by computer technology. There’s also no reason we can’t have tenths of seconds on shot clocks to aid officials in making shot-clock violation calls while also calibrating differentials between game and shot clocks in the final minute of regulation, if applicable.
(In college football, there’s no reason we can have tenths of seconds on the game clock in the final minute for the similar resolution of last-second timing disputes. There’s also no reason sensor technology can’t be applied to placekicks and whether a ball is inside or outside an upright.)
1 – GET SERIOUS ABOUT WEEDING OUT FOULS FROM THE FINAL MINUTES OF A GAME
Let’s begin with a bit of realism here: Fouling when trailing by multiple possessions in the final minute of a game is such a normal part of basketball as the sport has existed (for decades, not merely years) that it would come as a shock to coaches to see the rules radically change in an instant. Revising foul rules (most specifically, the penalties for a foul in an endgame situation) would force coaches to substantially adjust.
With this point in mind, the implementation of new foul rules — whatever they might be — should probably be gradual and incremental over a period of two to three seasons. A few individual seasons with trial runs would probably be better than an abrupt shift to a given set of foul rules that do not change over the course of a decade or longer. Having a two- or three-year window in which the sport tinkers with endgame foul rules would seem to be appropriate.
With that having been said, the sport needs to eventually arrive at a point where fouls just don’t offer the same chance for a trailing team to leverage a bad situation into a better one. You’ll get a million different ideas on this subject from a million different fans.
Some will say that a foul should be one shot and the ball. Others will say that the fouled team should choose between a two-shot foul or an inbound of the ball. Still others will say that the fouled team should get two shots and the ball.
Some will say that these rules should apply to the last two minutes of a game. Others will say that these rules should apply to the final minute of a game. Still others will say that these rules should apply to situations in which the shot clock is off, and nothing more.
You can have that debate for yourself. The bigger picture is what matters. College basketball needs to take two to three seasons to seriously confront how to weed out fouling from what can generally be identified as “endgame basketball,” when normal 35-second possessions cease to exist and the sport devolves into little more than fouling and free throw shooting.
What Jim Valvano did in the 1983 NCAA Tournament won a national title for his team, but the legacy of that tournament must end sooner rather than later.
It’s too late for the 1983 Houston Cougars and the other teams Valvano purposefully fouled to send to the free throw line for the front ends of one-and-ones.
It’s not too late for the rest of us.
Not yet, at least.