Carson: Charging to conclusions
Alex Carson | Thursday, April 9, 2015
I’ve got to admit, it was pretty funny.
All year long we had to put up with the complaints about college basketball; the pace of play, the physicality, the low-scoring games, the one-and-done players.
A term I heard a lot? “Unwatchable.”
But then a funny thing happened on the way to doomsday.
On March 28, Notre Dame and Kentucky played the most-watched college basketball game in cable television history.
A week later, Wisconsin and Kentucky bettered it, turning in the best rating for a national semifinal in 22 years.
And even without the Wildcats going for perfection, Monday’s title game garnered a 17.1 overnight rating; the highest for a title game since Lute Olson won his national title in 1997 at Arizona.
Remind me what “unwatchable” means again?
Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend college basketball is perfect; we all know it isn’t. But at the same time, there’s no need to act like the sport is on its deathbed.
It’s pretty likely the shot clock will be trimmed to 30 seconds next year. I’m not a huge fan of the move — I previously wrote a column advocating the abolition of the shot clock — but I’m willing to concede the point.
Fundamentally though? It’s a cosmetic change. Sure, the pace of play should increase a little bit, but it actually doesn’t do much to change what we actually see on the floor.
So I figured I’d throw out a trio of suggestions of ways we can fix the game.
Let’s move back the 3-point line again, widen the lane and eliminate the charge from the game.
The motivation? Go back and watch basketball from the early days — let’s say the 1950s — and you’ll find a game that’s beautiful to watch; it’s free-flowing, with players able to move seamlessly from one spot on the court to the other.
Let’s bring that back. Moving the 3-point line — I’d propose the FIBA and WNBA standard of 22 feet, 1.75 inches — opens up more space for offenses to operate by naturally stretching everything out. Especially in the modern game, with the gradual elimination of the long 2-pointer, offenses will run their sets from a little further back.
And what if we widened the lane? The NBA took it to 16 feet and it works well there, so why not in college? It forces post players to be a little more polished in their offensive games, sure, but it also opens up four more feet guards and forwards can use to drive the lane. While I wouldn’t go as far to suggest a defensive 3-second rule like the NBA has, a simple, nice, wider lane should make the game a little easier on the eye.
Then there’s the one that pains me a little bit. Growing up, I loved the charge. Everyone does, right? It’s the epitome of everything we’re supposed to love about sports; the gritty, hard-nosed defender putting his body on the line to get the ball back for his team.
But the more and more I think about it, the more and more I can’t defend it, because the referees. I’ll flash back to Saturday’s national semifinal between Kentucky and Wisconsin. As the game starts to wind down, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser drives the lane and dishes to Bronson Koenig for an open 3. He drains it. Lucas Oil Stadium goes wild. The Badgers take the lead.
But wait. Here comes the most hated man in the gym waving his arms, blowing his whistle.
I’m optimistic. The referee’s going to get it right. He’ll count the bucket for Wisconsin and then whistle a loose-ball foul on Kentucky.
And then he screws it up.
He says Andrew Harrison took the charge, despite being nowhere near legal guarding position early enough.
On the biggest stage of the season, it was a call that almost determined the outcome; Harrison’s brother Aaron hit a jumper on the other end to put the Wildcats up two. That’s a five-point swing in the span of 20 seconds.
All because it’s a call few officials know how to properly make.
For too many referees, a block/charge opportunity is like waking up Christmas morning. Their eyes get big, and the anticipation nearly kills them. Heck, I’ve even seen officials blow the whistle to signify the charge before contact is even made with the defender.
The charge rule punishes offensive players for being aggressive. It puts players in a dangerous spot. And officials can’t call it correctly.
It’s time to cut it from the rule book.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.