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March 18, 2010
Perfecting the Sport
In 12 Easy Steps

by John Gasaway

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By now you've gathered that I love college basketball. I watch it, puzzle about it, research it, ask questions about it, answer questions about it, and, not least, write a lot of words about it. I'm doing what I love.

I usually mark the tip-off of the tournament with a piece I wrote in 2005, but this year I decided to start a new tradition. Not that I'm replacing the old girl, necessarily. (There's the link right there.) Simply giving her some company. Here are 12 ways to make my beloved college hoops even better.

1. Redefine fouls.
Somewhere along the line, the refereeing of college basketball--maybe basketball, period--got seriously off-track compared to what occurs in the sister movement-and-goal team sports like lacrosse, soccer, and hockey. (In other words the sports that Dr. Naismith was modeling when he invented this one.) Only in basketball can contact that doesn't visibly alter the movement of the alleged victim constitute a violation. Call it a touch foul, call it a nickel-dimer, under any name it needs to go away. If a defender has his hands up and is moving laterally, he shouldn't be called for a foul short of sticking out his leg and tripping the player he's guarding. And the fact that I even need to state the following shows there's a problem: A player standing with his hands above his head by definition is not fouling anyone, even if the big star from the other team jumps into him. Not every instance of players coming into contact needs to be a violation. Let them play.

2. Eliminate fouling out.
We can talk about a new penalty to levy when a player picks up his fifth foul. Maybe the opposing team gets two shots and the ball on every subsequent foul by that player. But removing participants from the contest entirely, as has often been pointed out, is unique to basketball among major American team sports. For good reason. It's really stupid.

3. Reduce the number of timeouts.
Here's a tip. If the coaches in your sport can call timeout, send their players into action, see what defense the opponent is using, and then call another timeout before anything has even happened, your sport gives its coaches too many timeouts. Let's make a start here by taking away one timeout per game from each team. The earth will continue to spin, I promise, and TV networks fretting about lost commercial time can be accommodated via slightly extended breaks in the action during the remaining timeouts. But under the current system the last two minutes of a semi-close game can be agonizing to watch, what with all the fouls and timeouts. I can resign myself to the fouls, but the timeouts are within our easy amendment. (Related: Networks please vary the outro music going to commercial in the last minutes. Hearing the same two bars again and again every 30 seconds is maddening.)

4. Prohibit calling timeout when possession of the ball is in question.
A held ball is actually a held ball, even if a player from one of the teams is forming a "T" with his hands.

5. Put a ref on the monitor.
Assuming the game is televised (and it bears repeating that even in 2010 this isn't the case for all D-I games), refs should be able to consult with a colleague at the monitor at the next stoppage in play. Said colleague will already have ordered up any replays he needs and will be able to tell his on-court mates if that shot a while back was a three or a two. In fact he'll be able to do so just as quickly as we do now at home. But this business of stopping the action so referees can "go to the monitor" is a classic example of achieving just outcomes through the slowest and most intrusive means imaginable.

6. Paint the no-charge half-circle on the floor, already.
Obviously.

7. Model the announcement of the tournament pairings on the NBA Draft.
Every year on Selection Sunday the contrast between the drama of the occasion and the oddly serene and antiseptic feel of that tiny CBS studio strikes me forcibly. I'm sorry, I was under the impression that this is kind of a big deal, not halftime of Tennessee-Mississippi State. The pairings should be announced, personally, by a David Stern-like figure from the NCAA, and that person should be standing in front of a rowdy MSG-style crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse, one that will boo loudly when Butler is paired with another mid-major. Speaking of which....

8. Forthrightly acknowledge mid-major status in NCAA pairings.
The selection committee maintains that it's blind to conference affiliation when selecting and seeding the field. That's as it should be in selection, but when pairing teams a school's status as a mid-major should be acknowledged along with their geographic location. You ask: Have I ever considered that if two mid-majors play in the first round it means one will survive? You bet! But have you ever considered that both Butler and UTEP might have reached the second round had they not been paired against each other?

9. Make the existence of NCAA Notices of Allegations (NOAs) public knowledge.
I've said this before so I'll be brief, but there is no earthly reason why the fact that a school is being investigated by the NCAA needs to be a secret. There. That was brief.

10. Do away with the requirement that schools "release" players who want to transfer.
Players are already required to sit out a year when they transfer. Fine. That's enough deterrent right there to prevent impulsive exits. But requiring the current school to "release" the player on top of that is simply too much. As we saw in the case of Freddy Asprilla at FIU last summer, it's simple enough for a school to say no and, in effect, impose a one-year D-I-wide scholarship ban on the player in question.

11. Mandate that announcing teams have three people.
Three-person announcing teams always work better. Always.

12. Levy a tax on use of the word "stun."
When a lower-ranked team beats an opponent in the top ten, it is said that the underdog "stunned" the favorite. Always. Problem is, this is quite often not true. My favorite recent example involved San Diego State beating New Mexico in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament. That the Aztecs and Lobos played a close game--which SDSU happened, this time, to win--on a neutral floor was pretty much the precise opposite of stunning. More like "foreordained."

I'll be keeping track of how many of these we get done. Meantime, enjoy the tournament. It's pretty good, even without all of the above.

John doesn't have space for 12-point reform programs on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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