Monday, March 19, 2012

How I would save basketball

Basketball is a great sport. It's a terriffic blend of strategy, athletic ability and endurance. And I hate it.

Wednesday night, the University of South Florida Bulls played the California Bears in the opening round of the men's NCAA Championship tournament. The Bulls had never won a tournament game and hadn't even been invited to participate since 1992. So this was a momentous occassion for most of us here in the Tampa Bay area (I used to work at the Sun Dome, the home of USF's basketball teams), and I wanted to be a part of it. The game went about as well as any USF fan could hope for. Here's a brief description from USF fan web site Voodoo Five:
The (Big East) conference's ninth and lowest-seeded entrant in the NCAA Tournament put a full-fledged #BEATEMDOWN on the Pac-12's second-best team, regardless of what the scoreboard said. USF gave up 13 points in the first half. They were ahead by 32 with nine minutes to go. The Bulls had at least a 20-point lead for over half the game. It was a bloodletting.

It was a lot of fun to watch...right up until the last couple of minutes. That's when Cal, who trailed the entire game, started committing intentional fouls. This is something that happens all the time in basketball. Not so much in meaningful games, thank goodness, which makes the NCAA tournament the best championship in sports. But during the regular season, when blowouts are frequent, it happens every night. The idea is if you're behind, you commit fouls, the other team shoots free throws and you hope that they miss so you can get the rebound and score. If that strategy sounds inherently flawed to you, you should know that it never works. Oh sure, maybe in a game that's fairly close, it's a gamble that might pay off once or twice and make a difference. Not in a game with a large margin and the team that's trailing hasn't been competetive all night. After all, if they could rebound and score at will, why did they fall so far behind? It would be like a pitcher in a baseball game who keeps giving up hits deciding to intentionally walk batters, hoping that they step out of the baseline and get called out.

In spite of this basically NEVER, EVER working, you still see it all the time. It's less a strategy than it is an sad attempt to delay an inevitable outcome. As a result, sitting through the last two minutes of a basketball game can be an utterly miserable experience.

Luckily, I have solutions.

My first brilliant idea was that in the last two minutes, if a team commits an intentional foul, the other team has the option of shooting the free throws or running five seconds off the clock. But then I thought that making it a choice that might require multiple huddles to figure out would defeat the purpose. So here are my other ideas:
  • Put a physicist at the scorer's table, calculating equations all night long. As soon as it's determined that it's impossible (not unlikely, impossible) to come back, game over. This is probably my BEST idea. My second best idea...
  • Make the coaches commit the the fouls. That's right. You want somebody to commit fouls? Put your sportcoat on, walk out on the floor and do it. If you can't catch the younger, faster, better-conditioned athletes to put yiur hands on them, so be it. Coaches running around out there, chasing after players might become my favorite sport.

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