Last year on the (effective) opening day of the tournament I posted the following piece on how to make a great sport perfect. Now, one year later, here it is again: my 12-step program, with a 2011 update following each proposed reform.
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.
2011: This one falls squarely under the heading of long-term reform, like the federal deficit or making Pixar understand that the rest of the world doesn't like Randy Newman. So be it. I'm in this for the long haul.
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.
2011: My most sweeping reform and, interestingly, one that garnered a lot of reader applause. I think Billy Packer advocated this once. I support it anyway.
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.)
2011: No-brainer. Let's get it done starting next year. Painless to implement and would make a huge positive difference.
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.
2011: Should have added that I don't understand why this needs to be a "reform." It goes without saying.
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.
2011: Rutgers would have benefited from the off-floor presence of someone with some authority in their game against St. John's in the Big East tournament. On those admittedly rare occasions when authority on the floor has failed, it'd be nice if there were still hope.
6. Paint the no-charge half-circle on the floor, already.
2011: If I were told I could have just one item from this list implemented immediately I would choose this one. Overmatched defenders standing directly under the basket with their hands upraised in the international "Hey! Ref! Look at me! Call a foul!" position gets under my skin so much I even hate it when my own team does it successfully.
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.
2011: CBS is now in a larger studio with a basketball hoop. Charles Barkley is there on occasion. These are positive steps. Clearly I deserve the lion's share of the credit, where "lion's share" is understood to mean "all."
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?
2011: Give the committee credit. This year they created just one instance of mid-on-mid fratricide (Old Dominion vs. Butler). Selection committee that still uses something older than CD players, I salute you!
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.
2011: Call this the Memphis Reform. In 2009 the Tigers successfully concealed the fact that they'd received an NOA related to then-former Tiger Derrick Rose for four months. Take the option for concealment away. Why not? This isn't national security. It's a game.
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.
2011: Don't want to get all Curt Flood or anything, but there's no earthly reason why this can't happen tomorrow. Painless and just. Do it.
11. Mandate that announcing teams have three people.
Three-person announcing teams always work better. Always.
2011: Grab someone from the crowd if you have to, but a duo formed by one Impartial Person and one Expert is intrinsically stultifying.
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."
2011: This one's going great! Inappropriate deployments of "stun" are now roundly abused on Twitter. Si se puede!
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.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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