Our local basketball team is in the Big 12. We're far from the best team in the league, but the Big 12 is a major conference and as a consequence we have the opportunity to see some well-played, exciting games and also a goodly number of excellent young players. Great athletes appear regularly, mostly, I must confess, on opposing teams, but we've sent a number of guys on to the NBA, including Scott Wedman, Jay Humphries and Chauncey Billups. Last week the U of Texas brought in a freshman named Kevin Durant. Remember the name -- he's going to cut quite a swathe in the NBA. I'm a fan; I've gone to almost every home game for twenty-five years or more. At it's best, basketball is the most beautiful of team sports. But I have some serious bones to pick about the way the colleges play the game nowadays. Here are two of those many bones.
a) Time outs. Every four minutes there's a "media timeout," so that the TV stations, if there are any, can intrude their commercials. Media timeouts have everything to do with money and nothing at all to do with the sport. Media timeouts interrupt the flow. Team A is on a roll; the coach of Team B doesn't have to use one of this allotted legal timeouts to change the dynamics of the situation -- he just waits for the scheduled pause. Four extra timeouts in a half, at a minimum of a minute and a half each, add twelve minutes to the length of the game. And because each coach can hoard his timeouts, he has them all available at crunch time, which means that the climax of the game is far too frequently interrupted and the final moments become more the coaches' responsibility than the players'.
b) Fouls. Too many ticky-tack fouls are called. The result -- teams are regularly "in the bonus" nine or ten minutes into the half. And into the "double bonus" four or five minutes later. All fouls -- offensive fouls, fouls away from the ball, incidental contact -- become shooting fouls. The first ten minutes of each half often have a pleasing rhythm, a bit of pace, but the second ten minutes are always stop-and-go; rarely is there a full minute of uninterrupted action. Boring? You bet. Contests routinely turn into prolonged exhibitions of foul-shooting. A gazelle of a game now hobbled and shackled.
Our own basketball stadium is at altitude -- a mile high, in fact. Our opponents are almost always flatlanders. We should have an advantage because we're better conditioned to play at 5280 feet. But because the games are so long and punctuated by so many timeouts and fouls, our advantage is lost. No twenty-year-old is going to run out of breath when a forty minute game takes two and a half hours to complete.
Solution: a) no more "media timeouts." Oh yeah, I know, the teams need the money. Well, maybe there would be some revenue from increased attendance if the games were quicker and shorter and more exciting. b) better-trained and better-instructed referees. No bonus shots. No free throws except for fouls in the act of shooting. And teams should always be able to "decline the penalty," as they do in football, and take the ball out of bounds. Then there would be no incentive to foul in order to stop the clock. Take back the game from the coaches and from the referees. Let the young men play.
Common sense changes, in my carefully considered view, which, if adopted, would make life richer and more satisfying and more aesthetic.