A Rule Made To Be Broken
Moments after Temple's 60-59 win over Michigan State on Nov. 20, Owls coach John Chancy shook hands with Spartans coach Tom Izzo and said, "We beat you on a rule change." Chaney was referring to the new held-ball rule, which the NCAA's men's basketball rules committee implemented this season. It stipulates that if the defense causes a tie-up, the ball is awarded to the defense regardless of which direction the possession arrow is pointed. (All other tie-ups are subject to the old alternating-possession system.) Temple was awarded the ball on tie-ups three times in the final minutes against Michigan State; without those possessions, the Owls could not have won. Still, Chaney disparaged the new rule. "I don't think anybody should be awarded a game on a draw," he said. "We won on it tonight but could just as easily have lost."
Early returns indicate that most coaches share Chaney's opinion. Even Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, a member of the rules committee, says the rule is "absolutely not working." Exhibit A: If a defensive player forces a loose ball, grabs it and is immediately tied up, the ball is given back to his opponent, on the theory that the offense became the defense when the ball was turned over. Montgomery says this was not the intent of the committee. "It has been a disadvantage to us three times already," he says. "That's not what it was set up to do. I think it needs a review."
The rule has also drawn criticism because it adds another element of subjectivity for the referees, which is why the men in stripes appear to dislike it. After one game last week, five refs were asked if they liked the new rule, and all said no. "There has to be a balance between the offense and the defense," said one. "I think the balance has changed."
Montgomery isn't ready to bail on the rule yet There is, however, precedent for the NCAA to abandon a rule that Isn't working. After North Carolina State won the NCAA tide in 1983 by fouling liberally at the end of games, the NCAA put in the so-called Valvano Rule, making fouls in the last two minutes worth two shots rather than a one-and-one. Teams started fouling earlier, making the ends of games interminable, so the old rules were restored after just two months. South Florida coach Seth Greenburg would like to see a similar move now: "We're better off saying, It's not working. Let's toss it out."