Sunday, March 22, 2009

Basketball's Longest Minute

If I'm ever informed that I only have one minute to live, I'm heading straight for an NCAA basketball game. Not just because I'm a fan, but the final sixty seconds of a college game can seem like an eternity. Anyone who has ever waited for their team's game to be televised, while an already decided contest bogs down into a parade of free throws and time outs, knows the frustration of watching thirty seconds on a frozen scoreboard turn into ten minutes of futility. During a game's thirty-nine other minutes, the personal foul is considered an infraction, both for the individual player and the team. A foul is supposed to produce a penalty, yet in the final minute, a foul is encouraged and rewarded by stopping the action and giving the losing team the chance to steal a victory through, essentially, breaking the rules. It transforms a team game into an individual free throw shooting contest, and worst of all for television, it is intensely boring. It's time for a rule change.

A mild case in point was Saturday's Michigan-Oklahoma game. With 59.4 seconds to go and ten points down, Michigan called a time-out. That final minute took six minutes to complete and, guess what; after three more fouls and another time-out, Michigan lost by ten points. It was like watching water evaporate. Why should something considered a liability for the rest of a game become an asset in the final seconds? Other rule changes have only benefited the game. I can recall when the dunk was illegal, and any player the referee believed a little too aggressive around the rim could have his shot waved off. The slam dunk electrified the game when it was finally permitted, but the strategy changed from the jump shot, to throw the ball under to Shaq and let him break the backboard. To correct this, the three point shot was added to reward the long jumper and reclaim the game from the behemoths lurking beneath the basket. Now, the excitement of a timely three-pointer rivals the dunk.

The shot clock sped up the game and ended the strategy of stalling and sitting on a lead. No one knows the pain of holding season tickets for a team who's game plan is to hold the ball for extended periods of time and only shoot if it's a lay-up, like the fans of the Memphis Tigers during the mid-1960s. Moe Iba, who was hired as coach because he was the son of legendary coach Hank Iba, proved that none of his father's success wore off on him by routinely producing games with final scores like 27-24. In the process, he ruined the career of Memphis Prep star Mike Butler, who, with the proper coaching, might have looked something more akin to Pete Maravich. But the fans endured until Iba was finally shown the door and the shot-clock made certain that such an abomination would never happen again. The excitement returned with a team that wanted to win and not merely try not to lose, and the problem was fixed. Now, it's time to address the game's final flaw, the excruciating, final second foul-fest and crawl to the finish.

These last minute touch fouls that kill the action and make the game resemble the Bataan Death March should be called by the refs as what they are; intentional fouls. Just because a foul doesn't knock somebody down, it's still committed with the intent and purpose of stopping the action. Rather than put the fouled player at the free throw line for a one-and-one, change the rule to make every non-shooting or open court foul in the final minute to be an intentional foul, and give the offended team an automatic two free throws. Or better still, do what they do in soccer. When a foul occurs in the open field, the offense just throws the ball back in and play continues. If there's no reward for fouling, the action goes on and the losing team actually has to play defense and sink the three-point shot.

Anything would be better than the interminable wait for the final ticks to expire on a game who's outcome has already been determined. The better team should win, and no basketballer who plays his heart out for forty minutes should have a game rest on his free throw unless he was fouled in the act of shooting. Ever since he removed the bottoms of the peach baskets, I don't believe Dr. Naismith intended for his fast-paced game to be decided at the charity stripe. And, need I add, that if this rule change had been in place last season, my Memphis Tigers would be the defending national champions. We ended, however, as runner-up to Kansas after owning them for thirty-eight minutes, and then the fouls began. But did you see the way the Tigers shucked Maryland and ate all their oysters on Saturday? And we're a much better free throw shooting team than last year, so until enlightenment strikes the NCAA rules committee and they decide to give the long-suffering fans a break, Go Tigers Go! In the meantime, please make your foul shots.


Anonymous said...

Excellent point, meistro. I never even considered the point that you made, but I think that you are 100% correct. Maybe no one else has considered this either. Why not send your proposal to the NCAA rules committee. I agree with Father Farken. I must admit that you are brilliant, even though I don't always agree with you. You would have made a good political analyst, lawyer, teacher, or perhaps a college professor. Or maybe even a sports analyst.

Cousin Bob said...

I would've replied to the column, but I refuse to open a Google account, or any other account I can avoid, for that matter. So you get a personal reply (but feel free to post) on another great blog.
For years, I've been advocating a rule change that would really make the fouling team think twice. Award the shooting team two points if the first foul shot is made for any foul committed in the last minute.
I usually agree with everything you write, but I wouldn't pop the champagne corks yet if i were a Memphis fan. No doubt the bad taste that remains from Calipari taking UMass far but ultimately nowhere, then skipping to the NBA (and to the Nets at that - it would be like leaving Gonzaga for the Grizzlies), makes it hard for me and many others in New England to root for a Coach Cal team. Which does not mean that I'm picking UConn, which (as Dan Shaughnassy pointed out the other day) might as well be on Long Island as far as Bostonians are concerned. I'd like to see Pitt win, and as for Louisville, if you think Calipari left a bad taste...
Keep up the great work, a sentiment seconded by Denise./Bob

ghg said...

I was as shocked, but not as wounded, as you were last year. It goes without saying that not since Fred Brown threw the ball to James Worthy in 1982 was a game given away with such abandon. But, Calipari is one of the best. Forget the NBA. College coaches have never been able to do that well. Patino couldn't either. They could go all the way in 09. We'll see what happens in the Regional Finals should they and the #1 seed meet up.

Anonymous said...

Mike Butler akin to Pete Maravich? What have you been smoking?

Sputnik57 said...

Mr. Anon.
It looks like not many people care about the rules of basketball but us. I do appreciate your good words, however. It's March Madness. I figureds folks might have something to shout about. Guess not. Go Tigers!

Anonymous said...

Well, I read this post a few days ago and it was fresh in my mind last night when Memphis was in a nearly identical position as was Michigan in a game you so well described. "A mild case in point was Saturday's Michigan-Oklahoma game. With 59.4 seconds to go and ten points down, Michigan called a time-out. That final minute took six minutes to complete and, guess what; after three more fouls and another time-out, Michigan lost by ten points. It was like watching water evaporate". And there was Memphis, just over a minute to go and down by 11. I just wonder whether at that very moment, you too were thinking you may have written this blog just one game too soon. The very strategy you described and want banned, was the very one that the Tigers adopted as it was their only remaining hope - to turn the game into a free-throw shooting contest and hope for the best. Had the Tigers come back and won - and what a great comeback that had already made - how would you have reacted to someone saying it was a cheap victory enabled by a bad rule that should be eliminated. I hate the end of basketball games too and for the very same reason and it is even more acute in the pros than in college, but actually, the rules work pretty well the way they are; it just depends on who you are rooting for. Personally, I hate the 3-point shot as it rewards players and teams an extra point for making a shot that players were making 75 years ago. If you are going to do that, make it at least 25 feet. Just me though. The best change they could make in basketball is to enforce the rules they way they are written and begin with traveling'.

Anonymous said...

Getting through to the NCAA rules committee may be near impossible. But, if you can get Calipari's attention maybe he will agree with you and get other coaches to bring pressure to bear on the rules committee for change. The bottom line is that it would be easier to get through to Calipari than to try to get through to the NCAA rules committee. Why not send him a letter with your argument? It will only cost you a postage stamp. And your point is still valid. According to your thinking Missouri deserved the win because they maintained the lead through most of the game. They outplayed Memphis and deserved the win as painful to us Memphis fans as it was. Intentional fouls during the last minute shouldn't be a basis for a rip-off win because one team has better foul shooters.