It was discussed off and on for years, but for reasons unknown to me it just disappeared. —Bobby Dibler, coordinator of basketball officials for the Pac-12, Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences
Know what’s wrong with college basketball games?
They've got a good start and a good middle, but they don't have a good end, the most important part. It’s like those Hobbit movies — they go on forever and after a while you don’t care what happens as long as it ends already.
In the time it takes to play the last minutes of a game, you could write a symphony, do your taxes, mow the lawn, or wait in line at the DMV, and return to the couch in time for the end, if you still cared.
The college season ended a week ago, but not before the NCAA held its annual meetings at the Final Four to discuss the state of the game. One of the biggest issues was the length of games. They should start by examining The End.
Timothy Burke, in a post on Deadspin.com, did some exhaustive (if not exhausting) research on the subject during the NCAA tournament. He studied the 52 tourney games that had been played to that point to determine the actual time it took to play the final minute. Result: An average of 5 minutes and 57 seconds. Burke noted that the Oregon-Wisconsin game required 15 minutes and 7 seconds to play the final minute — “more than 10 percent of the entire game’s length, including halftime.”
There are too many timeouts, too many replay reviews and way too many fouls. You know the drill. A team is behind with one or two minutes to play, so the coach orders his players to foul, hoping their opponents will miss the free throw, giving them another quick possession and possibly a score. Suddenly, a frenetic, fast-paced game turns into chess. It has all the pace and flow of stop-and-go rush-hour traffic.
The solution is simple and obvious: Don’t allow fouling for profit. In the last minute or two of a game, give the team that is fouled the option of free throws or possession. Or: Two free throws and possession. Why reward teams for committing a penalty? In other words, why allow “crime” to pay.
This is not a new idea, of course; just a forgotten one.
I called Bobby Dibler several weeks ago to ask him if there had been any discussion of giving teams the possession option. Dibler is the coordinator of basketball officials for the Pac-12, Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences, as well as a former member of the NCAA rules committee.
“It was discussed off and on for years, but for reasons unknown to me it just disappeared,” he said. “It was talked about for a while, but when I sat in on those (rules committee) meetings it wasn’t even a topic of discussion.”
At the time, Dibler was heading to the Final Four, where he would attend rules and officiating meetings. “I’m going to ask around,” he said. “I’d be interested myself.”
A week ago we talked again and Dibler reported that the possession option came up "very briefly." The real concern, according to Dibler, "is the amount of time it’s taking to finish the game. I don’t know what they are going to do with this, but there is a strong feeling that ending the game could be tested in some of the (tournaments). But nothing specific was discussed.”
Dibler thinks the long, drawn-out endings could be addressed at least in part if officials simply enforced the existing rules. In 2011, the NCAA created two types of flagrant fouls — Flagrant 1 (contact above the shoulders that is not excessively physical) and Flagrant 2 (excessively physical contact). Both result in free throws and possession, but the latter also includes ejection. Good luck deciding which is which, but even beyond that, there is one big problem:
“You and I both know that officials are just not willing to make that call (flagrant fouls),” said Dibler. “We know what’s going on. The referees aren’t making that call. They haven’t for years. There is just a reluctance to do so.”
That means more fouling for profit — and more long endings.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: email@example.com