Biggest lie in America: "The game's almost over, honey. I'll be there in a minute."
The last two minutes of college basketball games have become the Russian breadlines of sport: They never end. Third World nations have been toppled in less time than it takes to play the final moments of some games.
Timeout. O.K., so you're just passing through on your way to the swimsuits. Fine, then. I don't need you. I guess it doesn't matter that I'm writing this while wearing only a tutu. I guess it doesn't matter that I'll be printing Ashley Montana's and Kathy Ireland's home phone numbers in a bit.
In Florida State's 110-96 victory over North Carolina last Thursday on ESPN, the final 2:28 of the game took nearly 15 minutes to play. In Indiana's 86-80 victory over Ohio State on Feb. 23 on CBS, the final 2:33 took 14 minutes. And these are not extreme examples; these are routine. At game's end, the game never ends.
North Carolina committed seven fouls and called two timeouts in the final two minutes in its attempt to catch up. "It's foul-them-to-the-buzzer time," ESPN analyst Jim Valvano remarked. In the Indiana-Ohio State game, three timeouts were called in the final 1:35, including one by the Hoosiers—leading by eight points—with 8.1 seconds left. CBS's Billy Packer actually called it a "very smart play."
The golden rule in college basketball is, If there's time left, there's time left to call timeout.
If you are so hell-bent to get to page 82, then just get out of here now. Go ahead, I'll wait. . . . Good. Now we can stretch our legs, huh? So who's left with me at this point—the class of '87 from Mount Holyoke and Ralph Nader? Fine, then. I've played smaller rooms than this.
These excessive timeouts add to the cult of coaching, with TV analysts endlessly analyzing the various options at hand. (One coach is imploring his team to foul; the other coach is imploring his team not to foul. Pretty complex stuff.)
The game has become a stop-and-start, foul-and-be-fouled telethon. The worst offenders are Big East teams. They contest everything; I've seen Big East starters take a charge during player introductions. (In the Big East, after the seventh foul of a half, the opposing team shoots one-and-one; after the 10th foul, opponents get two shots; after the 50th foul, they're allowed to drive the courtesy car home right then and there.)
In the last two minutes of a Big East game, you not only can order a pizza from Domino's and get it on time, you can order it from Denver!