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Have you heard that Washington’s football team has a controversial name?

9 Oct

In this post I will give my thoughts about a topic that every person on the internet has already given their thoughts about. I don’t spend much or any time reading those thoughts. I do read Uni Watch every day, and Paul Lukas has lately been posting a daily summary of news on the topic. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make this argument exactly, so here it is.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine a hypothetical world in which the team has always been called the Washington Hawks or whatever. Imagine that now in 2013 the moribund Jacksonville Jaguars franchise has decided to move to Los Angeles. This is a pretty plausible scenario. Imagine that the team wants a whole new start in LA. New colors, new logo, new name. Sounds reasonable. They’ll lose the alliteration of Jacksonville Jaguars and their team colors and uniforms are terrible. Imagine that there’s a fancy press event to unveil the team’s new identity. Everyone, say hello to the LA Redskins!

This would never happen. Why? Because calling your team the Redskins is obviously and flagrantly racist and no one today would even consider it as an actual possibility for a team name. It would be the largest PR blunder in history.

All the pro-Redskins arguments I’ve heard are about tradition or pride or “Native Americans aren’t actually offended by it” or some other kind of nonsense. I wish someone would make an actually intellectually honest case: “Yes it’s racist and no I don’t care.” Fine. I could at least respect the honesty of that.

Here’s another point. Maybe the most common pro-Redskins argument is the “Native Americans aren’t actually offended by it” one. It makes sense to me that that’s the case. When people refer to the Washington Redskins, they aren’t using the word pejoratively. In modern discourse, the NFL team is by far the most common source of that word’s use. I imagine most Native Americans have heard the word redskin used to refer to the football team much more frequently than in any other context. This has caused to word to lose a lot of its power to offend, and has over time become more and more innocuous. That argument makes logical sense. That doesn’t mean it’s a good argument. Let’s take it a step further. By the same logic, it would be a good idea to rename the team the Washington Niggers. Hey, there are a lot of black people in DC, and after fifty years or so the word nigger will stop being so offensive. Great idea, right? Obviously not.

So those are my thoughts. HOT SPORTS TAKE. OUT.

NCAA tournament recap

12 Apr

I was going to write this on Tuesday. I was going to do that because I thought Michigan was going to win. I wasn’t surprised they lost, really, but I needed some time to decompress.

Watching a championship game in which your favorite team is playing is not very fun. It is nerve-wracking. Even when Spike Albrecht was balling and Michigan was up 12 I was nervous. That gradually transitioned to disappointment and then to depression. Being a sports fan is stupid that way.

Here are some late and unfocused thoughts. I would have had better thoughts if I had done this Tuesday. Too bad for you.


My bracket this year is the worst bracket I have ever filled out. I finished in the 13th percentile on Yahoo. Yikes.

The timeout situation is at crisis level. I know this both by watching games and by monitoring traffic to this here blog. Most of my visitors find their way here by Googling things like “tv time outs ruin ncaa basketball”. My post on this subject was also linked in a poorly-written listicle on Bleacher Report, resulting in literally dozens of pageviews. Just a matter of time until I’m shouting about sports on TV.

Another thing at crisis level is officiating. The championship game was a great basketball game. Like, a “remembered fondly for years to come” kind of great. The referees were atrocious. And not even in a “OMG they screwed Michigan I hate the refs” way. They missed a bunch of simple, obvious calls (a goaltend, a kicked ball, etc.), and their foul calls were truly bizarre. I’m on record as saying that the NCAA should adopt the NBA handchecking rule, which would make most of Louisville’s pressure defense illegal, but the times their guards were whistled for fouls felt totally arbitrary and not at all related to the amount of contact they created. The same thing in the post. People on both sides were being legitimately grabbed/struck hard from behind/put in bear hugs with no calls. Just embarrassing for everyone. I don’t want to harp on this forever, so again, here’s my one-sentence solution: Standardize the rules and put USA Basketball in charge of officials for all levels.

I know it won’t happen but I’ve had some fun the last few days fantasizing about how good Michigan will be next year if no one leaves for the NBA.

The commentary about Syracuse’s zone is interesting to me. Obviously they’re good at it, but there’s a key point that everyone misses: It’s gotten more effective over time because fewer and fewer teams run it. The fact is that in the abstract, a zone defense is almost always less successful than man-to-man. Most coaches have realized this and so hardly anyone still plays primarily in the zone. This gives Syracuse a huge advantage because they have a gimmick factor helping them that didn’t exist 20 years ago when a decent number of teams still played zone. Most teams Syracuse plays won’t face another zone team all season, and most players come to college having never played against a competently-executed zone defense. Score one for gimmick defenses, I guess.

So Minnesota hired Richard Pitino. I’ll withhold judgment, but that seems like a decision with a pretty high chance of backfiring in a serious way. Hiring someone whose main qualification is his last name is usually a bad idea. Recruiting is probably the most important thing for him, and probably the thing his name will help with the most. If he can sign Tyus Jones he’ll be off and running.

Is it just me or was there a whole new cycle of commercials in the later rounds? I don’t think I heard any father-daughter arguments about KFC bites during the Final Four. Or maybe I had just tuned them out at that point.

I feel sorry for Louisville. Sure they have a championship, but now a permanent part of their program’s lore is those ridiculous uniforms with the goofy camouflage and sleeves.

That’s sort of it, I guess. Major takeaway from this year: college basketball is awesome despite the terribleness of the NCAA and their referees.

How to standardize the rules of basketball

28 Mar

I do a lot of complaining about basketball officials. NBA and NCAA both. They’re not good. I wrote a post awhile ago about how to improve the situation. That post was about how referees are supervised and assigned. Basically I said that USA Basketball should be in charge of all the officials and handle assignments, promotions, etc. In order for that to work, the rules need to be standardized. If refs are calling games at different levels, the different levels need to have the same rules. Of course, this is a minor consideration. The real reason to standardize the rules is that it makes things easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Giving each governing body authority over its own little fiefdom leads to rules that are different for no reason. This is stupid. Here’s how the rules should work, at all levels, from high school to the NBA.*

*I’m sure I will miss a lot of things. Maybe I’ll add on later if other things come to mind. As always I did no research of fact-checking of any kind. I’m also not going to try to wade into FIBA rules.

Three point line
This is an easy one. Use the NBA line. The college line is too close.

Restricted area/block/charge
The block/charge is the most aggravating thing about watching basketball. When I was little there were hardly any offensive fouls. Now they’re everywhere. Why? Defenders spend a lot of time trying to draw them. It drives me crazy. Darting in front of someone and falling down when he runs into you isn’t playing defense. Some players are terrific at drawing charges. There was a lot of uproar over Aaron Craft’s drawn charge against Iowa State last weekend. Whether he was or wasn’t outside the circle misses the point. He wasn’t trying to play defense. He was trying to get a call. I HATE this. To successfully draw a charge you have to a) jump in front of the player with the ball early enough to “establish position” b) but not so early so that the player with the ball has time to adjust his path. The whole thing sucks. Big time. I’d eliminate the restricted area altogether. You want a charge? The offensive player has to take a full step before he jumps into you with you in “established position”. I don’t even want to get into the lunacy of the NBA’s Lower Defensive Box. Just fucking get rid of it.

Illegal defense
OK, so this isn’t in the NBA rule book anymore, they have defensive three seconds instead. I hate this rule. Not as much as the old illegal defense, but I still hate it. Get rid of it. Defenders should be able to go wherever they want whenever they want. NBA why do you hate zone defense? If teams can make it work let them.

Shot clock
College basketball fans always talk about how college offenses are so much better or fundamental or whatever, and they think the shot clock is why. These people are idiots. They think every team runs some sort of intricate Bobby Knight motion offense. You know what most college teams run? The “dribble around 25 feet from the basket for the first 20 seconds of the possession” offense. It’s terrible. Run down the court and do something. At the same time, NBA sets are pretty much one-and-done exercises. There’s not enough time to pull out and reset. Compromise: 30-second shot clock.

Hand checking
The NBA has it right on this one. Let guards dribble the ball unmolested. Let them do stuff. They might make good plays that lead to good shots. That’s what we all want to see.

40 minutes is way too short. College football and hockey teams play 60 minutes. College soccer teams play 90 minutes. College baseball teams play nine innings. College basketball teams can’t play 48 minutes? Yes they can. Four 12-minute quarters. High school teams too. They only play 32 minutes now, which is beyond stupid. Timeouts are out of control. Best case is to adopt the NBA TV timeout rule, which has two per half plus the quarter break. As far as called timeouts, time for a drastic reduction. Three per game. If you don’t use one by halftime, you lose it. This will require coaches to let their players play basketball. The biggest misconception is that teams need timeouts to draw up plays. This is bullshit. Especially in college. To pick on one recent example: Fran Dunphy from Temple. He called a timeout with 50 seconds left in the game, his team down one, and ten seconds on the shot clock. Temple came out with no play and heaved an airball. Another timeout. At this point, Temple can win if they hold Indiana scoreless in their possession and get a quick shot at the end. The one thing they absolutely cannot do under any circumstance is give up a three, which puts Indiana up by four and effectively ends the game. Of course Temple left All-American Victor Oladipo wide open for a three. This kind of thing happens constantly. I don’t know what these coaches say during timeouts, but it almost never results in some kind of great clever play.

Advancing the ball after timeouts
In the NBA if you call a timeout after a made basket, you get to inbound from the sideline instead of under the basket. This is to enable more buzzer-beaters. I like this, especially with fewer timeouts available. Make coaches use them strategically. Now they can just call as many as they want and they never seem to run out.

Bonus free throws
The NBA suffers from the lack of the one-and-one. Since we’re playing four 12-minute quarters, here’s how to do it: Count team fouls for each half, not each quarter. One-and-one after the eighth team foul, two shots after the twelfth. Six fouls to foul out, of course. This also allows us to scrap the NBA’s convoluted end-of-quarter alternate free throw bonus rule, which is too complicated for me to understand without looking it up.

Jump balls
Jump it up! The possession arrow is horrible and I don’t get what purpose it serves.


25 Mar

Hey, remember when I picked Georgetown to win the NCAA tournament? That turned out to be a bad pick. Sorry. My bracket is full of bad picks. I’ve never done this poorly. I only got 29 total games right out of 48. I correctly predicted only seven of the Sweet Sixteen. Two of my Final Four teams lost their first game. That’s almost impossibly bad. I don’t know what happened.

On the bright side, I did correctly pick Ole Miss and Minnesota to win in upsets. This probably makes up for all my mistakes. You might even say it more than makes up for them. I know I would.

Here are some bullet-point style thoughts about the first weekend of games.

This photo should have won the Pulitzer Prize

This photo should have won the Pulitzer Prize

Colorado State is coached by Larry Eustachy. I wish someone had told me this, I didn’t know he was back. He’s a fun character to have around. He’d be more fun if he was still getting drunk at frat parties on his opponents’ campuses after games. One thing about Larry is that he doesn’t wear a suit during games. He wears a button-down shirt with the school’s logo on it. When he was at Iowa State he wore an Adidas mock turtleneck. Coaches who don’t wear ties irk me. It’s just so bush league. Only old guys who wear sweaters à la Bobby Knight or Lou Carnesecca can get away without wearing ties. No one else. I declare ties mandatory unless you’ve been grandfathered in to the sweater club. I don’t think any of those guys are even left. When Tommy Amaker was at Michigan he wore sportcoats with these fancy mock turtleneck things. It drove me fucking crazy. Grow up man.

You look terrible

You look terrible

One little thing I enjoy is when the referees go to the monitor to review a call. Not the review itself, because those are ludicrous and need to stop. Just call the foul and move on. The refs blow calls constantly, why should we be extra concerned about getting flagrants right? Even with the video they still blow the call much of the time. At least they’ve stopped ejecting players for unintentionally elbowing people. Anyway, what I love is when they go to the monitor. It always plays out the same way. The announcers tell us that the refs will be reviewing the call. Then the camera cuts to the referees, who are standing at midcourt. The midcourt guy turns around the monitor, which shows the same shot we’re looking at, which is the refs themselves. It sets up the terrific infinite regression of the refs looking at themselves on the monitor looking at themselves at the monitor, etc. I love that.

F minus

F minus

I hate the new generic NCAA floor that every venue uses now. The floors were always such a great part of the visual appeal of the tournament, especially when there are four games going on at once. You immediately knew where each game was instead of having to sideways-read the baseline lettering. It also provided a cool sense of continuity through the day, because each game in a given venue had a kind of intrinsic visual similarity. Since everyone is flipping back and forth between games in different places, this was a really cool small thing. It’s too bad that the NCAA’s corporate marketing strategy is more important than fans.

Another thing I miss is the way the physical bracket is organized. It used to be that all the games in two regions were on Thursday and the other two regions were on Friday. This meant that the whole left side of the bracket got filled in Thursday, and the right side on Friday. Another small cool visually/graphically appealing thing. Now it’s a big mishmash. Frown.

Complaint number three: we need to figure out how to incorporate the First Four into the bracket. Right now you don’t even pick those games. That was kind of lame when there was just one play-in game, but now that there are teams playing early that can and do win in the tourney proper, something needs to be done. My suggestion would be to scrap the whole thing and go back to 64 teams, but then the NCAA would lose the TV revenue from Tuesday and Wednesday and mediocre power conference programs would complain about not having a chance so it’ll never happen. I hate the NCAA so much.

The Big Ten did very well this weekend. Except Wisconsin. This made me very happy. I have a new strategy when it comes to picking games involving Big Ten teams. If teams play better in their non-conference schedule than they did in conference play, pick them. If they did worse, don’t pick them. Big Ten conference games are so different from regular college basketball that I don’t think they have much predictive value. Notable teams this year that fit the profile: Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois (who were much better out of conference), and Wisconsin (who was much worse). I feel pretty good about this, we’ll see how it plays out in years to come.

UCLA/Minnesota is the only matchup I can recall in which both teams fired their coaches immediately. Howland was pretty inevitable. I think Tubby was too. UCLA can probably pick whoever they want. Minnesota could end up with a downgrade if they’re not careful. Their AD used to work at VCU; he hired Shaka Smart. Hopefully he knows what he’s doing, and hopefully he’s loading up a dump truck with money to give to Shaka. I would be so happy to see him in the Big Ten generally and at Minnesota specifically. The Gophers playing that havoc style of his would have Williams Arena rocking every game. That would be awesome. That’s an awesome arena. The Palestra in Philadelphia is the only basketball venue I’ve visited that tops it.

I picked Memphis to beat Michigan State. That was dumb. Here’s why:

mgoblogtweetI didn’t think of that. The announcers made a big deal of Josh Pastner’s laminated cards and his jumping around. Jesus. Is he coaching twelve-year-olds? I’ve seen Memphis play before. I knew about him. I should have known better than to pick him to beat a team with a real coach and a real gameplan. He’s a recruiting coördinator, not a coach. My fault.

I was watching Marquette/Butler and I spotted someone familiar on the Marquette bench. It took me a split second to place him. Jerry Wainwright. Wow. I assumed he’d retire after he got canned by DePaul, but I guess he’s still around. Just wow is all I have to say.

The TV timeout situation is out of control. CBS cuts to a commercial on every called timeout. Plus all the scheduled TV timeouts. That means in most games there are EIGHTEEN commercial breaks. In a 40-minute game. That doesn’t even count halftime. Just unconscionable. The NCAA’s bald hypocrisy on issues of finance is more deplorable with each passing day.

Speaking of TV timeouts, lets talk about commercials. The Bud Light one with the people on a blind date is, to me, the obvious winner for worst/most overplayed of the year. Budweiser has a gigantic ad budget. Couldn’t they at least film a few terrible commercials instead of airing the same terrible commercial over and over? KFC is the runner-up. “Dad, you’re not getting my bites.” Fuck you and your dad and anyone who thinks putting gravy on chicken nuggets is a good idea. Second runner-up is the Sears thing with the dancers and appliances. I don’t even get that one. Is it supposed to be funny? Are there people who think it’s funny? The mind fairly boggles. Nothing this year comes close to unseating the all-time champion, the Michael Jordan of bad March Madness advertising, Shrimp Sensations from Applebee’s. Take a bow, Shrimp Sensations.

Now it’s time for my new and revised bracket. Just because I did really really poorly last time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to me now. I’m rooting for an all-Big Ten Final Four. I think Michigan State is the only team that won’t make it. Three out of four will still be good. It’s amazing that Ohio State will get to the Final Four without beating anyone seeded higher than 6. I wonder if that’s ever happened before. Michigan will win. Trey Burke is the best player. Although if they end up losing to Florida Gulf Coast I won’t even be mad.

Fuck a jinx

Fuck a jinx

The first annual TPY NCAA tournament preview

17 Mar

I have always loved the NCAA basketball tournament. I would love it almost as much if you couldn’t fill out a bracket. But the bracket is definitely part of the appeal.

The idea of filling out a bracket appeals to every part of me. The first year my parents had internet access for the tournament I must have been a freshman in high school. Or thereabouts. I don’t remember exactly. Having internet access was a pivotal moment in my relationship with the NCAA tournament. Instead of filling out one bracket for a pool at school, I filled out like 20 brackets. I spent a good amount of time on primitive search engines finding every website I could that ran a bracket contest. Instead of filling out the same bracket for every site, I switched them all up. Hedging my bets. I knew this was the best strategy if I wanted to win at least one glorious prize from the internet. I printed out a stack of blank brackets and dutifully filled in my picks for every website. I tacked them all up on a bulletin board in my room. Let me tell you, having twenty brackets on the wall to constantly refer to makes the first weekend a lot of fun. I highlighted correct picks in blue and incorrect picks in yellow. I spent a lot of time poring over my bulletin board. Pulling out that blue highlighter felt so satisfying. And covering the wall in yellow when one of my Final Four picks lost early was unreasonably demoralizing. That was fun.

Over the years I regained a little bit of perspective and dialed things back. Now I only fill out one bracket. I realize that it’s mostly a crapshoot. I don’t even root for my picks necessarily. I cheer for upsets. To me this is so much more fun. I hate the idea of hoping MIddle Tennessee State loses because I picked against them. I try to separate my bracket from my rooting interests. Especially on the first weekend when most of the fun upsets happen.

The high point of my bracket career was 2003. That was the year I picked 3 seed Syracuse to win. I remember sitting in a class with maybe 25 other people on Tuesday before the first round. We were all talking about the tournament. I let everyone know that I thought Syracuse would win. Three weeks later, on the Tuesday after the championship game, everyone was hanging out waiting for class to start. “Hey, remember when I said Syracuse would win?” That’s a great feeling. I followed the logic then that I have used ever since: pick the team with the best player. Carmelo Anthony made it happen and made me look like a genius.

Now, I’m sharing my secrets with you, dear reader. Use this info to win your bracket pool and impress your friends. Or, if you’re in my pool, use this info to tie me for first place. That’s still pretty good.

Disclaimer: This season I have watched almost every Michigan game and almost no other games. This will not prevent me from pretending I know what I’m talking about.

Click to expand and see all of my expert picks

Click to expand and see all of my expert picks

Midwest Region

I’m surprised Duke is a 2 seed. They’ve been #1 in the RPI all season. I hate Duke as much as the next guy, but I think they’ll get through here. I’ll definitely be cheering for Creighton in the second round though. Memphis over Michigan State is my bold upset pick, even though the game’s in Michigan. Big Ten teams are at a big disadvantage in the tournament because the style of play is so different from what they’re used to. They also get saddled with referees who don’t call Big Ten games all season and are willing to enforce the rules as written. That’s a bigger adjustment that most people think. MSU has traditionally been able to overcome this, but Memphis is good. I’d love to see Saint Louis beat Louisville. I think that’s a good upset pick too but I can’t pick all upsets.

West Region

Gonzaga is a pretty soft 1 seed. It’s the first midmajor 1 seed I can think of since St. Joe’s a few years ago. That team had Jameer Nelson and Delonte West and couldn’t make it to the Final Four. I think Gonzaga is in the same camp. Kansas State has some athletes. They’ll blow by Wisconsin unless UW can hit 50% of their threes. I think they also have the advantage over the Zags. New Mexico is a trendy Final Four pick. Let no one say that I am not trendy. UNM has been close to the top of the RPI all season. The RPI loves the Mountain West this year. They have it as the #1 conference overall. That’s wild. Something to keep in mind when considering Mountain West teams. I think the Pac-12 blows so I picked Belmont over Arizona. The Pac-12 and SEC both need to step it way up. They’ve been embarrassing for the last five years or so. That’s a big part of the reason there are so many teams from outside the power conferences in the tournament lately. The only “power conferences” left are the Big Ten and Big East if you ask me. After the Big East splits up next year, I don’t think there’ll be much of a gap between the traditional majors and the next tier (Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, Big East leftover conference, C-USA)

South Region

It pains me to say it, but I don’t think Michigan will make it to the second weekend. I really hope they will, but unless they learn how to play defense this week I just don’t see it. Georgetown has been on a roll lately. They’d be a 1 seed if they had played a respectable non-conference schedule. Unfortunately for them, their non-conference schedule was pretty embarrassing. It was basically Indiana, UCLA, and a big pile of garbage. I don’t think that’ll hurt them once they get on the court. Minnesota is an interesting team. They have the players, but they lose inexplicably all the time. Honestly I think Minnesota would solve all of their problems if Tubby Smith fired his son Saul from the coaching staff. You might remember him as one of the least likable players in NCAA history. He’s got to be the problem. Unfortunately I doubt Tubby will do that and he’ll probably get fired himself unless they make a run. Good news for Tubby: I think they will. Florida hasn’t played anyone good since December, I think they’ll be surprised by Minnesota’s athleticism. Plus Tubby did win a National Championship once, maybe he’ll recapture some of that magic. Villanova/North Carolina is an uncommonly good 8/9 matchup. Jay Wright has been a great coach for Villanova. I hope he stays there for another 20 years. He has a reputation as ayoung, hip, fashionable guy. Maybe even like a basketball sex symbol, if a college basketball coach can be one. I think that’s part of why he’s so popular on the Main Line. Fun story: The first time I saw Coach Wright on the Villanova campus, he was wearing a t-shirt, mesh shorts, and alligator loafers with no socks.

East Region

I think Indiana will make it through even though I think Cody Zeller will struggle without protection from the officials. I feel sorry for the NBA team that wastes a top-5 pick on him. Victor Oladipo is really good. Good enough to carry the team through the region. This is almost a Duke-level team. Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey; It’s amazing those guys didn’t find their way to Durham and I hate them as much as if they did. I think this is a pretty straightforward region. I have Butler over Marquette, but picking Butler can hardly be controversial at this point, can it?

Final Four

This is where the Best Player Theory comes into play. Otto Porter Jr. is the best player. Therefore Georgetown will win. Simple as that. Victor Oladipo is probably the second-best player and is a beast on defense. That semifinal matchup will be the game of the tournament. I suppose it’s possible that Oladipo shuts down Porter. I don’t know if he has the size to do it. I’ll be fun to watch. Indiana did win their game in the fall, but I think Georgetown has improved a lot since then. I don’t think Indiana has improved much at all. Duke/New Mexico is a boring game in comparison. I like New Mexico striking yet another blow against the power conferences. Maybe they’ll get promoted up like Butler.

Final note: Georgetown will be playing next year in the New Big East. I’d like to remind everyone that that whole conference was my idea, even if they invited Butler so they can’t call it the Eastern Catholic League like I wanted. Although I am glad they got to keep the Big East name. Good for them.

Basketball officiating is in crisis

19 Feb

I like to watch basketball. I haven’t watched as much this year as I have in the past, but I have watched many many basketball games in my life. Lately I’ve been watching mostly Big Ten and NBA games. The one thing those two basketball environments have in common is distractingly bad refereeing.

The Big Ten is widely regarded as the best college basketball conference, and it’s being destroyed by a terrible brand of ref-baiting clutch/grab/flop/dive anti-basketball. The most obvious example of this strategy is Wisconsin, which is an essentially unwatchable team. The strategy is this: commit several fouls on every possession. When there are so many fouls, the refs simply won’t call all of them. If you play like this in every game for several seasons, the refs will adapt and see your style of play as normal, and will call hardly any of the fouls at all. Some idiots praise this as “hard-nosed defense” or “fundamentals” or some such nonsense. I hate these people.

The NBA’s biggest referee problem is the well-known star system. It’s an open secret that the rules are applied differently for different players. If you don’t watch the Heat, you might be surprised that LeBron James never travels or fouls anyone. It’s one thing to have lax enforcement of traveling and moving screens etc., as long as that lax enforcement is consistent. It’s a total joke. NBA game commentators will openly talk about which players get “respect” from the referees during games. “Player X hasn’t been around long enough to get that kind of call” and such. A lot of people see that as part of the game and it drives me crazy.

I’m sure it’s difficult to call basketball at a high level. I don’t expect perfection. But I do expect consistency and competence. One of the key factors in both the college and NBA problems is the level of familiarity the referees have with the coaches and players they’re officiating. These guys see each other over and over every season. This is a structural problem.

Here’s what I would do if I were the czar of basketball.

Right now NBA officials are employed and supervised by the NBA. College officials are employed and supervised by the various NCAA conferences. They should all be employed and supervised by USA Basketball. USA Basketball should be in charge of refs from high school up. Referees would start at the bottom and move up. They wouldn’t be tied to a specific league or conference or level. The best refs would call NBA games, big college games, D-League games, etc. This will obviously never happen. One thing that would be a necessary prerequisite would be standardizing the rules between levels,* and the NCAA and NBA would never give up their authority over the rules, let alone over their referees. They’re much more concerned with protecting their little fiefdoms than improving the quality of play. The NBA officials union would also presumably stop this even if everyone else wanted to do it.

*Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about how to do this.

Think about how glorious it would be. Instead of refs with longstanding grudges against certain players/coaches, refs becoming desensitized to foul avalanches, refs dealing with crazy travel schedules to meet league demands, you’d have refs calling the rules disinterestedly and consistently, at all levels. Lots of people watch all kinds of different levels of basketball on TV. Knowing that games would be called the same way from high school to the NBA would tremendously increase the pleasure of watching. To say nothing of the benefit of players. They could focus on playing instead of working the refs.

I could do some research and find all kind of anecdotes about officials being swayed by their relationships with players, or studies about foul rates and all kinds of other nonsense but I won’t. This seems like such a self-evident problem and such an easy solution that a single paragraph would have been enough. I stretched it out just for you, dear reader.

The moral depravity of TV timeouts

8 Feb

I have a whole series of posts about basketball coming up. This is a small one, but get ready for more.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about the various ways in which the NCAA is terrible. Capricious and inconsistent rules enforcement and the continuing exploitation of football/basketball players are the most common areas of complaint. The big issue is that colleges rake in gargantuan sums of money, and it’s in their interest and the NCAA’s interest not to expose the unsavory characters who could damage everyone’s reputation or stop pretending that their whole enterprise is about amateurism or whatever. The main goal in both of these cases is to keep the money spigot turned on.

Colleges can’t help making money from sports. TV networks and fans line up to throw money at them. In a lot of ways, colleges have almost accidentally stumbled into operating athletic departments that are increasingly separate from the universities themselves and make a lot of people in academia uncomfortable. I’m not going to get into all of that right now, but I can see a lot of good reasons for maintaining the current status quo. Except in a few areas. TV timeouts in basketball is one. They need to go right now if the NCAA wants fans to take their “amateurs playing just for fun!” nonsense seriously.

College basketball games have eight designated TV timeouts. After the first dead ball with the clock under 16:00, 12:00, 8:00, and 4:00 in each half. TV timeouts are so pervasive that even games that aren’t broadcast on the TV or radio or anywhere else are played with them. It’s part of the game at this point. It’s reprehensible. TV timeouts make the game experience noticeably worse for fans in the stands, fans watching at home, the players, pretty much everyone except the coaches.* They exist for the sole purpose of earning money for colleges. Once upon a time you could make an argument that without the TV timeouts, games wouldn’t be on TV at all and so they were a necessary evil. That’s no longer the case. ESPN and CBS College Sports Network and NBC Sports and The Big Ten Network and the PAC-12 Network and all the various Fox Sports Net stations would still love to broadcast college basketball games without TV timeouts. They just wouldn’t pay as much for the privilege.

*Coaches love TV timeouts. They love timeouts generally. I think if it were up to coaches, there would be a mandatory timeout after every possession. That’s a topic for another time.

So what we’re left with is colleges and their governing organization claiming that their non-profit, tax-exempt basketball enterprise exists for the betterment of their unpaid students and in no way compromises their academic mission. They also significantly altered their basketball rules in a way that makes their product noticeably less enjoyable for their fans in a transparent and shameless effort to make more money. They do this with a straight face.