Referee czar clears up confusion; plus musings on UNC-UK and more
Do reasonable N.C. State fans regret running Herb Sendek out of town?
While Virginia enjoyed a terrific week, Virginia Tech certainly did not
I was epically wrong about Florida, which dropped out of my AP ballot this week
Last summer, the men's basketball Rules Committee did something very unusual: It announced that there would be no "points of emphasis" for its officials in the 2010-11 season. This was a departure from the past, when the committee has highlighted a few areas of the game -- rough post play, palming, sportsmanship, etc. -- and asked zebras to clamp down. This year, however, the committee asked the refs apply all the rules just as they are written. Sounds simple enough.
To make things even simpler, there were no rules changes this summer. The NCAA recently mandated that changes occur in two-year cycles. Since this was an off year, the committee didn't issue any new rules.
An exception can be made in the two-year cycle if it deals with player safety. So the committee made one very minor change to the penalty that can result from a swinging elbow. Keep in mind that the rules regarding swinging elbows have not changed. The only difference is how a rule is applied in a specific situation.
Simple? Actually, it's more confusing.
As I listen to television announcers try to explain the change, and as I read stories and columns referring to it, my head gets a lot itchier. So as I often do in such circumstances, I reached out to John Adams, the NCAA's hard-working, forward-thinking, media-friendly supervisor of officials, to help me break down the new applications. I wish I could present it to you like those old Choose Your Own Adventure books you used to read as a kid. (If you want to open the treasure chest, turn to page 117. If you want to pick up the magic sword, turn to page 125.) So here's my best effort to simplify how it all works.
The Situation: A player has control of the ball and he swings his elbow.
Question: Was there contact?
If the answer is No: Did he swing his elbow as part of a "basketball play," or was the move "excessive?"
The rule book describes "excessive" as "moving the elbows faster than the torso." That was Adams' definition. Mine is more like the Supreme Court's rule about porn: You may not be able to define "excessive," but you know it when you see it.
If the elbow swing was not excessive and there was no contact: No call is made. Play on.
If the elbow swing was excessive and there was no contact: It's a violation. Just like traveling. No foul called, no free throws. Other team gets the ball. This was new to me, and Adams conceded, "It has hardly ever been called." But that's the rule.
Back to the original question: Was there contact?
If the answer is Yes: Where did the elbow hit the defender?
If the elbow hit the defender on or below the shoulders: Was it a basketball play, or was it excessive?
If it was a basketball play, it's a common foul.
If it was excessive, it's a flagrant foul. Player ejected, two shots and the ball.
If the elbow hit the player above the shoulders: Was it a basketball play, or was it excessive?
If it was a basketball play, and the elbow hit the player above the shoulders, it is an intentional foul. The opposing team gets two foul shots and the ball, but the offending player is not ejected.
This is the part that is new. Last year, if an official determined that a guy made a basketball play and whacked his defender on the head with an elbow, he had to whistle it as a common foul. The members of the Rules Committee were concerned enough about player safety that they wanted to make the penalty for elbow-to-head contact stiffer.
If the elbow hit the defender above the shoulders and it was excessive: Flagrant foul. Player is ejected, two shots and the ball.
Question: Can any of these calls be made with the help of the replay monitor?
Answer: Yes -- but only to call an intentional or flagrant foul. An official can never use a monitor to call a common foul. So if he has already signaled an intentional or flagrant foul, he cannot go to the monitor and say, "Whoops, I goofed. That's just a regular foul." But if he calls a regular foul -- or if he didn't call any foul, but sees a player on the floor writhing in pain -- he can go to the monitor and decide to call an intentional, contact technical or flagrant foul. He can downgrade a flagrant foul to an intentional foul, but he can't downgrade it to a common foul. Said Adams, "A good ref will err on the side of caution. They're all doing it."
Here are a few other nuggets I gleaned from my conversation with Adams:
The early season experiment with the arc under the basket was a rousing success. Last year, the committee added a rule stating that a secondary defender had to be called for a foul if he tried to take a charge under the rim, but it didn't go so far as to mandate that an arc be painted under the basket. Several early season tournaments, including the NIT, experimented with the arc, and Adams told me the feedback from coaches and referees was "overwhelmingly in favor" of adopting it permanently. They still have to figure out exactly where the arc should be (right now the area extends to two feet from the center of the ring; in the NBA the length is four feet). But you can expect the arc to be coming soon to an arena near you.
You still hear griping from coaches and fans about the interpretation of the term "intentional foul." The problem is with the word intentional. We've all seen situations at the end of games where the team that's behind intentionally fouls the opponent. Yet it's called as a foul, not as an intentional foul. Adams conceded the word can be problematic, but he made a good point when he said the idea was to differentiate between legitimate basketball plays and illegitimate acts like pulling a guy's jersey or fouling an inbounds passer before he throws the ball in. "If there is any chance at all the defender could have stolen the ball, it's going to be a one-and-one," Adams said.
Here's a wacky situation quiz for ya: A player takes a foul shot with his team leading by two points. He misses the shot, the ball lands on the floor, and nobody from either team touches it. You probably know that the clock is not supposed to start until a player touches the ball, but what if the scoreboard operator mistakenly starts the clock, and the ref notices the error and blows his whistle -- and still nobody has touched the ball? Yes, they can use the replay monitor to determine that a few seconds should be put back on the clock to correct the timing error, but how do you know which team gets the ball?
The answer: You use the possession arrow. I raise this question because Adams told me that that was the exact situation at the end of Evansville's recent win over Butler. Following the missed free throw, the Evansville players had all run back on defense, but the Butler players were waiting to touch the ball to conserve time. The scoreboard operator mistakenly ran the clock. Fortunately for everyone involved, the possession arrow pointed to Butler, but it would have been a p.r. disaster if Butler would have lost a chance to tie the game on that kind of fluke.
Looks like North Carolina finally figured out its half-court offense should run through junior center Tyler Zeller. He had a career-high 27 points (11-for-12 on free throws) and 11 rebounds in the Heels' upset of Kentucky. Try not to forget, guys.
As for Kentucky, Brandon Knight has to learn the difference between a good shot and an open shot, but John Calipari is smart to give Knight the freedom to figure it out.
Something to look forward to: Northwestern, off to a 5-0 start against weak competition, opens Big Ten play at Purdue, home against Michigan State and then at Illinois. That's a brutal beginning, but it will tell us whether the Wildcats are finally capable of getting off the NCAA tournament schneid.