College Basketball: Possession arrow should be shown the door

Gary LloydSenior Analyst IMay 17, 2008

Already, the 2008-09 college basketball season will see two new rules.

One, the 3-point line will be extended from 19'9" to 20'9".

Two, the goaltending rule now states that a ball that is completely above the rim and has already hit the backboard cannot be touched, regardless of whether it is on an upward or downward trajectory.

Both changes will help college basketball in its own right, but the NCAA needs to take a long, hard look at the alternating possession rule.

Fans, coaches and players have a legitimate love-hate relationship with this rule throughout the college basketball season. For instance, a fan for Team X screams for joy when a player for Team X fights for the ball with a player from Team Y. The team he's pulling for, Team X, is awarded possession and goes on to win the game.

However, in the next game, that same Team X fan preaches blasphemy when another tie-up occurs and Team Y is awarded possession.

Notice the love-hate relationship?

Here are two examples from recent NCAA Tournaments to paint the picture:

  • During a 2004 NCAA Tournament second round game between fourth-seeded Wake Forest and 12th-seeded Manhattan, Manhattan forced a held ball with less than 15 seconds to play while down two points. Wake Forest luckily had the possession arrow, and put the game away after going up by four. The possession arrow potentially kept 12th-seeded Manhattan from a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. The alternating possession rule had a profound impact on that game.
  • During the 2006 NCAA Tournament Washington D.C. Regional final between powerhouse Connecticut and unknown George Mason, the latter of the two led by four with less than a minute to play. Connecticut had possession of the ball, but a George Mason player locked his hands to the ball as well, giving George Mason possession and, ultimately, a win sending the tournament Cinderella to the Final Four. I bet UConn fans would like that possession back.

And that's why this college basketball commandment should be amended.

The referees, sidelines, baselines, game clock and shot clock are meant to regulate the game, not determine which team deserves possession of the basketball.

Why not let the players determine the outcome of the game? That's why they play, right?

This collegiate rule should mirror that of the NBA. When a ball is tied up between opposing teams, the ball should be jumped at the free throw line on the side of the court where the tie-up occurs. If it happens at halfcourt, jump it up like it's the start of the game.

Makes sense, right?

And none of this is to say college basketball would be perfect by adopting the NBA's version of the rule. It wouldn't. But it sure would be a fairer way to go about future tie-ups. The players would be determining the game's outcome, so fans, players and coaches alike would not logically be able to blame the referees for a loss.

That's a change to a rule at least worth thinking about.