You’ve heard the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In sports, it’s more like: “If it isn’t causing a problem on the biggest stage, don’t worry about it.”
Fans and analysts of college basketball alike have been griping about the block vs. charge call for several years. Now that it potentially altered the outcome of a Final Four game, perhaps something will finally be done about it.
In case you missed it because you fell asleep during one of the six commercial breaks in the final 3:46 of the game, the dubious call came with 19 seconds remaining. Syracuse trailed by three points and Brandon Triche went flying towards the hoop with all the body control of a newborn mammal. It was clear for a solid three seconds to everyone in the building that he had a lay-up on the brain.
Michigan’s Jordan Morgan recognized it and slid over to draw the charge, which he was awarded.
At live speed, it looked like a good call. Triche was clearly out of control. But upon further review, Morgan’s feet were still sliding while Triche was in mid-air. By rule, it should have been called a block.
By no means was this the only bad call or the most egregiously missed call in the game. Up until that call, I actually felt that Syracuse had been getting the benefit of the whistles over the final 10 minutes. (If you have the game on DVR, go back and count how many times Trey Burke was hugged away from the ball late in the game.)
Because it happened in the final 20 seconds of a tight game, though, it seems so much more offensive than if it had happened at any point in the first 39 minutes.
Regardless, let’s hope that it has enough of a lasting effect to incite some changes to a rule that has necessitated revamping for quite some time.
What can possibly be done to fix a decision that so often comes down to the flip of a coin?
I have four completely rational suggestions.
No. 1: Institute defensive three-second violations
There are three reasons that charges are so much more prevalent in the college game than they are in the NBA. The first reason is that the person with the ball doesn’t have as much body control at the collegiate level.
In the NBA, a guard can stop on a dime and hit a five-foot floater if he sees a guy standing in front of him with his hands protecting himself instead of the rim. Either that or he can twist his body in such a way to avoid contact and still take an effective shot or find the open man.
In college, these guys build up a head of steam and fully commit to going for a lay-up based on the fact that the lane was open when they made the decision at the top of the key. If someone slides into their path, so be it.
The second reason you don’t see nearly as many charges in the NBA is because guys actually value their health and aren’t willing to risk an injury and subsequent contract extension to nullify a silly lay-up.
The amendable reason, though, is that guys aren’t allowed to just loiter in the lane in the NBA.
It’s not often the loiterer that actually draws the foul, but by being there he allows a different guy to step out and plant for contact.
For example, when he wasn’t picking up stupid hand-check fouls 30 feet from the basket, Mason Plumlee spent the bulk of his “defensive” minutes hanging out in the paint. More often than not, he was matched up in man-to-man defense against a big man who couldn’t make a basket from more than five feet from the hoop, so there was no reason for him to ever venture from that spot.
However, Mason Plumlee hardly ever drew any charges. That role was left to be filled by Josh Hairston, Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton. And they were able to do so because they knew they had Plumlee behind or beside them to keep the driver from simply dishing the ball off to another guy cutting through the lane.
Keep an eye out for this defensive tactic in the National Championship game on Monday. I used to call it the “Emeka Okafor Defense,” but Gorgui Dieng has adopted it as well. There’s no rule keeping him from standing underneath the hoop and seeking blocked shots. Until that rule is instituted, defenses will continue chasing charges.
No. 2: Allow officials to call double fouls
Technically, as we saw in the final minutes of the Louisville vs. Wichita State game, this is already allowed. Stephan Van Treese and Ron Baker were fighting for a loose ball and were both whistled for a foul, with the ball being awarded to Wichita State by the possession arrow—having jump balls decided by an arrow is another debate for another day.
Though it may be allowed, it isn’t often implemented, and I’ve never seen it used in the block vs. charge debate. The charge at the end of the Michigan vs. Syracuse game would have been a perfect time for that call. Brandon Triche was definitely out of control and Jordan Morgan was definitely late in getting into position.
Rather than instinctively blowing the whistle at the point of contact and then looking around to the other referees to try to determine which player was most at fault, just call a foul on both players if it isn’t blatantly apparent which one is more in the wrong.
It may inflate the number of fouls doled out in a game, but it would also indirectly discourage players from driving to the lane in hopes of contact or sliding over on defense in hopes of benefiting from a 50/50 call.
No. 3: Award free throws to the team drawing the charge
Here’s something I’ve never understood: offensive fouls count as team fouls up until there are six team fouls, but stop counting as team fouls at that point. In other words, drawing charges will help get you into the bonus, but you will never get to shoot free throws for drawing a charge—unless there’s an inadvertent elbow on the play, which is again another debate for another day.
Why don’t you get awarded free throws for drawing a charge?
Does anyone know?
My assumption is that it’s considered enough of a penalty that the player committing the foul is one step closer to fouling out of the game and that his team loses possession of the ball. However, it clearly isn’t enough to limit the number of reckless drives towards the hoop.
You may think that awarding free throws for drawn charges would create even more attempts to draw the charge, but just watch how quickly coaches stop relying on their point guard and shooting guard to drive to the lane when the risk and reward are more fairly balanced.
No. 4: Allow sponsored instant replay of everything in the final two minutes of the game
Emphasis on "sponsored," because that’s the best hope of getting it to pass. Besides, wouldn’t you love to hear Bill Walton try to explain why the referees are going to the monitor and who’s sponsoring the break in the action?
Officials are already going to the monitor for extended periods of time for a plethora of things that don’t really matter. How hard can it be to figure out how much time should be left on the clock, or to figure out when exactly the shot clock started malfunctioning? And how much do those two-tenths of a second really matter in a tie game when we all know the team with the ball is just going to dribble out the clock anyway?
Most offensive of all, how many times have you seen the officials go to the monitor for at least several minutes to determine whether or not someone’s elbow accidentally made contact above someone else’s shoulder?
How does it make sense to stress those moments so ardently while not allowing the refs to use instant replay to determine the block vs. charge call or who touched the ball last before going out-of-bounds?
Every other major sport has figured out how to use instant replay—even Major League Baseball is gradually getting there. It’s time for college basketball to jump on board.
If we’re being perfectly honest with ourselves, basketball needs instant replay more than any other sport anyway. No offense to the Karl Hesses and Ted Valentines of the officiating world, but the game is too quick to expect a trio of guys in their mid-50s to be in the right position to make every call.
Maybe they don’t like having their authority questioned, but isn’t making the right call more important than preserving the pride of an official?
Personally, I would prefer some sort of combination of the first three options, but when all else fails, instant replay should be an option. It’s either that or we have hundreds of replays and talking heads debating whether the officials got it right.