November 7, 2013 in Sports

Commish, please

More rules changes this season, but here are a few in need
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

This season, Oregon’s State’s Jamal Reid, right, may have to back off of WSU’s Royce Woolridge unless he likes that whistle noise the referees make.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Eliminating the ridiculous flying-out-of- bounds timeout a few years ago seemed like the last turn of the wrench before college basketball could be declared perfect in every way.

Now the fun police want to snuff the wildfire of storming the court, so Mike Krzyzewski can go back to cussing out student reporters instead of opposing fans that invade his space.

So that will be the final – wait, what?

Oh, right. One-and-done, the alternating possession and runaway realignment all need surgery. In fact, the OR looks pretty backed up.

Guess there’s no telling which loose lugnut will lead to the wheels coming off.

There are 351 schools playing NCAA Division I basketball, and it turns out just about that many notions as to what needs banned, adopted or tweaked to make the college game better.

Every coach has a couple. Every sportswriter has a couple dozen. Like the overinflated roster of Division I schools, they pile up.

In fact, that’s one place to start.

Incarnate Word is Division I? Couldn’t IUPUI and IPFW be combined to form IUPUIPFW, or just be given their own can of Campbell’s? When the music stops and someone can’t find a chair, isn’t he supposed to be out? But New Jersey Tech, the last team without a conference, plays on.

Somebody close the barn door, please.

But it’s not all theory over beers, of course. Whether a rule change or administrative legislation, each year somebody’s idea of a Band-Aid gets applied – and there’s a drastic one this season.

Game officials have been given a mandate to clean up some aspects of physical play, in particular hand-checking. Keeping a hand or forearm on an opponent away from the ball is now a rule, not a guideline. So is putting two hands on an opponent, continual jabbing and using an arm bar on a dribbler.

The block-charge call – everyone’s favorite source of dispute – gets another eye job, too. No longer can a defender slide in under a player with the ball after he’s begun his upward motion.

So when a few coaches hereabouts were asked to be college basketball czar for a day and fix what’s wrong, it wasn’t surprising to hear more than one fret about physical play – or the pendulum suddenly swinging back too far.

“If you would have asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said the physicality of the game has gotten away from us,” said Washington State coach Ken Bone.

“But now that we’ve had some officials come in and work some scrimmages and intrasquad games, I’m a little nervous about the fact that it’s gone from being overly physical to now it’s like almost anything’s a foul.”

He won’t be alone. Fans will chafe at what’s likely to be an endless parade to the foul line in the season’s first couple of months until players adjust – or until the refs slowly slide back into calling things the way they always have.

If they’re going to clean up the rough stuff, Gonzaga’s Mark Few wouldn’t mind if they took it all the way to the hoop.

“I’d like to see them clean up finishes around the basket,” he said. “All through the NCAA tourney, it was unbelievably physical around the basket – on arms, heads, everything. A lot of no calls. All through our games in Salt Lake. The Final Four was crazy physical.”

In the bigger picture, a spatial makeover might be in order – in both the men’s and women’s games. Bone would like to see the international game’s trapezoidal key adopted. Gonzaga women’s coach Kelly Graves goes further: he’d be for widening the court.

“Just to make it a more free-flowing game,” said Graves. “Just like the wider ice in Olympic hockey opens up the game.”

While he’s expanding the court, Graves would also shrink time.

“Give us a 24-second clock and an eight-second count in the backcourt,” he offered. “Make the game faster. We can use an infusion of more excitement. Then it’s more about the players.”

If the wider lane could be swiped from the international game, why stop there?

“I’d like to see their rule on goaltending, where once it’s on the rim it’s live and either an offensive or defensive player can touch it,” said Eastern Washington men’s coach Jim Hayford.

“I just think it’s an athletic play, and both players have equal access. Anything that rewards more scoring in the game, I’d be in favor of.”

Not all the coaches’ fixes would apply to the playing rules, naturally. The administration of the sport is a constant chew toy, and the latest teeth marks are from the recent spate of hardship and graduate transfers that are allowing players to suit up at their new colleges without the traditional forced year off.

“They need to get the transfer thing cleaned up,” said Few, whose program hasn’t been beyond trying to leverage the current rule. “Everybody needs to sit a year if you transfer. These last couple of waivers have been jokes, absolute jokes.”

Though essentially beyond the NCAA’s reach, Bone would like to see shoe companies removed from the high school AAU equation, believing some brand-affiliated colleges “do a great job in using that to their advantage.” And Hayford has one pie-in-the-sky wish that’s undoubtedly echoed by every one-bid conference coach.

“I’d make every high-major team play one road game at a low-major,” he said.

Sounds fun.

But while we’re at it, can we ratchet the NCAA Tournament back to 64 teams and lose the contrived play-in round? And speaking of contrived, those come-lately JV post-season tournaments – the College Insider and CBI? Done. Nobody would miss the Independence Bowl, and no one will miss them.

But here’s what the sport needs most: a commissioner.

Whether the ideas floated here are crackpot notions or not, there’s nobody in charge of the game to steward its development, health and fairness. Big ideas – like a tournament or something that could crystallize attention to the game during the mess of November and December when no one can track what’s going on – have no one to vet and champion them. The NFL, MLB and NBA didn’t get where they are without a buck-stops-here guy.

But at least the flying timeout got fixed.

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