Changing the Rules: Three ideas

“It’s not enough to say, ‘it’s all part of the game.'” – NBA Commissioner David Stern


By now I think we can all agree that basketball is the greatest sport ever invented, but I think we can all also agree that there are a few changes that can be made to the rule book to make it even better.

As Stern put it a few weeks ago, “The game continually changes, coaching changes, the athletes change, and what our job is, without going overboard, to consider those adjustments and just keep up with the game.”

Here are a few suggestions to make the game better:


Eliminate the Block/Charge

This year college basketball marked a restricted area around the hoop for the first time. As a result, referees would often pay more attention to the mark on the floor instead of the basketball play itself. It seemed that if a defender was outside the hoop they would get the charge call, regardless of all the other criteria.

Everyone involved in and around basketball will admit that a block or a charge is basically a 50/50 call. So then why do we have it at all?

If all a defender is doing is having his hands up and moving laterally, he shouldn’t be called for a foul. A player standing with his hands above his head is not fouling anyone, even if the opposing player jumps into him. Not every instance of players coming into contact needs to be a whistle.

It is my belief that we should try to make the college/professional game of basketball as much like a pickup game as possible. And let’s face it, when was the last time you’ve seen anyone try to take a charge during a pickup game? They’d be laughed at. Teammates would tell them to play “real defense.”

And by real defense they mean make a play on the ball.

Why is taking a charge considered a “smart basketball play?” All a player is doing is standing in place and waiting for someone to run into them. Defense should always require the defender to make a play on the ball.

Penn St’s all-time leading scorer Talor Battle once told me that his coach would often get mad at him for never trying to take a charge. But as he put it, “I’m from New York, you don’t take charges in New York. It’s the cheap way out. It’s wimpy basketball.”

So let’s take it out of the game all together. How about when a defender is standing under the rim waiting for contact, a referee either (gasp) lets the game happen, or calls an offensive foul only when absolutely necessary.

But it also goes without saying that if you take away the charge, you would also have to take away some of those ticky-tack fouls that happen around the rim. Players are whistled for all sorts of body contact and those calls need to go too. Contact shouldn’t always equal a foul.


Eliminate “Fouling Out”

Basketball is the only game I know of where a player is eliminated from the game for having too many minor penalties. A football player can rack up as many negative yards for his team as he wants before a coach pulls him. Wrestlers can continue to tally points on their opponent’s scoreboard for minor infractions until the match is over, and it is the same in almost every other sport — except basketball.

Originally, I thought it would be best to implement a sort of “penalty box” for players with five or more fouls.

Once a fifth (or sixth, in the NBA) foul is reached, a player should be charged penalty minutes. A fifth foul equals one minute on the bench. A sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth foul equals an additional sixty seconds on the bench each time. Once a tenth foul is reached, the penalty time jumps to three minutes, where at that point any additional foul is three more minutes on the bench (assuming it’s even possible to have time left in a game after all that).

But then I thought, why not just go all the way and eliminate any sort of personal punishment at all for minor fouls? The player being fouled is already being rewarded with free throws, so where’s the need for any additional penalty?

A referee is never supposed to determine a game, and taking away the possibility of fouling out is one step closer to making sure that they never do. Players won’t have to hold back on defense just to make sure that they are still in the game even after a few small touch-fouls called in the first half.

A team’s game plan shouldn’t revolve around trying to “trick” another team’s player into foul trouble and thus be forced to spend extra time on the bench, which was basically the game plan against Anthony Davis this entire past season, and will most likely be tried against Cody Zeller in 2012-13.

Taking away the “foul out” would also take care of at least some of the problem with excessive flopping. A referee rewarding a player’s decent acting job a few times in the paint wouldn’t have the ability to affect the game like it has been.


Speed Up the End of the Game

You could miss an entire 37 minutes of a basketball game, only watch the last three, and still be completely satisfied. The last three minutes are the most compelling and the most worth watching (especially for casual/non-basketball fans).

The problem is, the last three minutes actually lasts fifteen, and for every shot taken there are generally at least two timeouts called.

Not only is this incredibly boring for fans, it’s also bad for teams trying to run an offense. It’s much easier to score when you’re in the flow of the game, and all those timeouts/commercial breaks/substitutions/monitor checks put the defense at a clear advantage.

As a coach, you should have prepared your team enough in practice that one time out in two minutes should be enough to make you comfortable with letting your players make decisions and play.

The FIBA rulebook offers an excellent suggestion in that timeouts cannot be called while the ball is in play. Even if a player gets trapped in a corner, that’s too bad for them. Tough. He got himself into that situation, and it’s just the way the game will have to be played out.

In addition, a timeout can only be requested in advance by a coach. After your request is placed, your team will receive its timeout during their next dead ball (a request can always be cancelled).

The other rule I would like to implement is to limit substitutions during the last five minutes of the game. Once the clock hits the five minute mark, a player cannot check into the game more than twice.

This will take care of checking players in (and thus stopping the game) solely to play defense or to foul, and then checking back out (stopping the game again) once the team is back on offense.  You would have to keep your players in the game even if they were in foul trouble and thus would force them to think twice about going for the foul late in the game.

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1 Response to Changing the Rules: Three ideas

  1. Chad says:

    Great ideas.  I love the ideas about speeding up the end of the game situation which has always been one of my biggest issues with the game itself.  I think that if your first point, about garbage fouls, were adopted, it would be rare to see a player foul out of a game, so the second becomes a bit more moot.  I am not sure I like the penalty box idea — either be disqualified or let them keep playing.

    Of course, you missed the biggest and most obvious rule change that is needed.  Get rid of the damn possession arrow.  Maybe it makes sense at the D2 or D3 levels with lesser quality athletes and less experienced officials, but there is no reason in the world I can think of to reward great defense that causes a held ball situation with handing the ball back to the offense half the time.  If you don’t want to jump the ball up 4 or 5 more times a game, I would suggest that held balls be considered turnover by the last team to possess the ball before the tie-up.  Thus, whichever team creates the held ball situation defensively gets possession.  Just stop rewarding bad offense with another possession.

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