Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Weird Dream, Weird Idea
I had bizarre series of dreams last night, all running together, but when I awoke at a 4:00 a.m. I had this idea to fix the NBA: what if the referees officiated the game more like water polo? The idea would be to call incidental infractions (e.g., pushing, hand-checking) with a short-whistle. This would pause the clock, force players to reset a bit, but everyone would continue play instantaneously without (1) stopping play completely for a foul, (2) cut the number of ticky-tack fouls called and putting players on the bench in foul trouble, and (3) keep the game from becoming an interminable foul shooting contest. (I'd like to include some other classes of fouls like when two players roughly equally positioned collide going for a loose ball--instead of calling a foul, have the ref assign possession and move on--but pushing and hand-checking are a decent start.)
Refs could still call fouls for these infractions (and others like "over the back") using a double-whistle (beep-beep). You wouldn't have "ejection"/man-advantage situations like in water polo, but water polo's basic rules of "too hard" of a foul or a run of mini-fouls that excessively interrupt play would earn the type of foul we're accustomed to seeing in the NBA. And refs would still get to call
I think the additional benefit of this rule is that it encourages the refs to get over their fear of blowing the whistle. It keeps them active, keeps them engaged in the game, but it may diminish their fear that they will disrupt the flow of the game by calling a foul or that they will harm a star player by calling him for illegal plays.
This is not a perfect system. It would take a while for players and refs to get accustomed to the technique (though it could certainly be tested in a summer league). And teams may adopt a mini-foul strategy that perpetually interrupts the team's offense by committing mini-fouls. I think the extent to which this is a problem would also require some testing in a summer league. There's no reason to think this is all that different from "Hack-a-Shaq" or Riley-era Knicks-style defense--at least the game wouldn't stop for 30 seconds at a time for the same fouls repeatedly. Also, although you would think this would let players play physical without getting too physical (a sort of valve release), it is not inconceivable to think that players might flip-out in frustration. Again, testing would help gauge the magnitude of the problem. And finally, the accumulated pauses may make the games longer, depending on how many mini-fouls occur, how many full fouls in the game are removed, and how quickly the clock operators adapt to pausing/unpausing the clock (a slow hand, a slower game). The last is a learnable skill, and the former two can be tested in practice.
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