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.