The NBA fixed their game. The NHL fixed their game. And we're way behind. And now we're fixing ours. And it is going to make the game so much better. —ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas
Find yourself screaming at college basketball officials more than usual?
Does your hair catch on fire when you see a guy barely touch somebody and earn a foul?
Has your disdain for basketball officials gone up the past two weeks, and you are not only screaming at them more but complaining to athletic directors, coaches, Internet message boards and the ACLU that something just isn’t right?
Welcome to NCAA basketball 2013-14.
All this fuss is actually a good thing.
According to the NCAA basketball lords, the game too closely resembled a brawling, mugging, wrestling-like cage fight. So they decided to attempt to return basketball to its roots, giving shooters and dribblers the opportunity to ply their art.
And that's a good thing.
To see how far college basketball had degraded, you had to look no further than the sophomore season of BYU’s Tyler Haws. Somewhere along the road to being the WCC’s leading scorer and an NCAA top 10 scorer last season, opponents decided the best way to slow down or stop Haws was to basically try and dismember him, bruise his kidneys, hack his arms, elbow him in the face, and grab him when he tried to use a screen or pick. This was under the guise of “getting physical” on defense.
It took a toll on Haws. On one occasion, the mild-mannered former LDS missionary to the Philippines even reacted and earned a technical foul.
"This is as big of an adjustment for the game as we've seen, and that includes the clock and the 3-point line," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said at Big 12 media day.
Last year, college basketball scoring had slowed down to its lowest level since 1952.
Back in the day, if you put your hands on another basketball player, you would be called for a foul. If you pushed the guy with your hands or with your forearm, used him as a bar, rode him around the key with your hands on his back or hip, engaged in hand checking or bumped cutters running through the key, it was a foul.
Somewhere during the past three decades, that interpretation of the rules was ignored. Now it is once again emphasized.
Simple as that.
In Appendix III of the NCAA basketball rule book, it specifically describes illegal activity to a dribbler as “The defender places a hand (front or back of the hand) on the ball-handler/dribbler and keeps it on.”
It is also illegal if, “The defender contacts the ball-handler/dribbler more than once with the same hand or with alternating hands.
A foul should be called if, “The defender contacts the ball-handler with an arm-bar.”
And it is a foul if, “Any displacement, holding or pushing occurs by either the offense or defense.”
A lot of such activity has not only been tolerated, but has been a staple of college basketball for years. If the system pulls it off, those things will no longer be part of the game.
Now, what does it mean?
On a positive note, there will be more scoring. Not a ton more, but slightly more across the board. In a negative vein, there will be more fouls called and in some cases, it could be a whistle marathon, interrupting the flow of the game as star players find themselves on the bench in foul trouble.
But this could be short term as players and officials adjust to the emphasis. The NBA made a similar emphasis in 1994, eliminating hand checking. Then in 1997, use of the arm bars started to be called. In the pros, teams are scoring more and fouling less. But it took time.
Before the season, many coaches were howling. They did not like it. In a game between Dayton and Findley, the two teams combined for 96 free-throw attempts.
But isn’t that obscene number a matter of education? Players were fouling. As this season progresses, everyone will adjust. And artistic shooters will surface with their craft.
Colorado State’s Larry Eustachy told reporters if folks paid to see Celine Dion in Vegas, she shouldn’t foul out before halftime. USA Today quoted West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and many others across the country saying it bugged them. “It stinks,” is how Xavier coach Chris Mack put it.
Let’s face it. College coaches are the ones that designed defenses to basically send out bully attacks and hack machines — then play that style if officials allowed it to pass. They did.
But no longer.
I agree with ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas: “The NFL has changed their game with regard to chucking receivers and putting your hands all over receivers. The NBA fixed their game. The NHL fixed their game. And we're way behind. And now we're fixing ours. And it is going to make the game so much better.”
In my opinion, it will be disruptive to the viewer and player for a while, then we’ll all get back to trying to make it a noncontact sport, as it was designed to be.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.