Breaking the Law: basketball should introduce soccer’s advantage rule

NBA and college games can end in a mindnumbing parade of free throws and timeouts. Maybe the more positive team should be rewarded

The last minute of a close basketball game is thrilling. The last minute in actual time, that is. Not game time. The last minute of game time is an excruciating parade of timeouts, fouls and free throws.

And its not even fair. Not fair to the viewers who want to see exciting open-court play but instead are presented with the basketball equivalent of darts a sequence of uncontested throws. Not fair to the viewers who want to see the next program on TV but instead see a coach sweating through his suit while he exhorts his charges to fling themselves at opponents to overcome a 10-point deficit.Not fair to the team with the lead, who can see all the work they did over 39 (college) or 47 (NBA) minutes unravel in action that barely resembles basketball.

Hoops fans ridicule soccer for settling games with penalty shoot-outs but is it really any better to settle close games with free throws? Soccer actually provides a nice simple fix. The advantage rule. If its better for the attacking team not to be awarded a foul right away, then dont.

Basketball refs feel obliged to call every little bit of contact, often deliberate but not quite flagrant, and send the poor unfortunate victim to the free-throw line. I may be releasing a perfect pass down the court to a wide-open team-mate, but it wont matter. The ref will blow the whistle and put me on the free-throw line to attempt to score the two points that were in the bag if play had continued.

Soccer refs have more leeway. If I play the perfect through ball to Jamie Vardy, he can keep going even if Diego Costa takes out both my legs. Vardy will get a chance to score, and then the ref will deal with Costa.

The NBA at least has a few rules to keep defenders honest. A player who has a clear path to the basket, or has just passed to someone who is practically there, can be awarded two free throws and possession of the ball, negating any advantage from fouling. The same penalty applies if a foul is committed away from the ball.

College basketball also has the away from the ball principle. Refs can award a flagrant 1 foul, giving free throws and possession, for fouling players away from the ball or making contact that is not a legitimate attempt to play the ball or player.

So players cant just pursue the opposing teams worst free-throw shooter around the court like a Benny Hill Showchase scene. At the very least, they have to give the appearance of playing actual basketball.

And yet, the games drag on. And on. Its still far too easy to play tag at midcourt and force the clock to stop.

Crusty old fans and coaches may say high-pressure free throws, with a bunch of obnoxious kids trying to spin the arena off its foundation to distract the shooter, are a great test of mental focus. But if we want displays of concentration, well watch chess. Or well drop by school to watch kids take algebra tests.

We dont watch basketball to see free throws. When you think Christian Laettner, you dont think of the free throws he hit in the 1991 semi-final to put Duke two points ahead of UNLV. You think of him catching a long pass from Grant Hill, turning and sinking the buzzer-beater to beat Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight the 2.1 seconds that changed basketball, according to the book on the topic. (Or, if youre still bitter about that game, you think of him stepping on Aminu Timberlake and getting a technical foul but not an ejection.)

And basketball has been painfully slow to adapt to the reality of the three-point shot. The team with the lead can get fouled and just get two free throws, while the trailing team can rush down and go for three. How is a two-for-three trade fair?

Free throws are supposed to be a penalty. Theyre not supposed to give the fouling team an advantage. So give the advantage back to the team that has played better basketball. And make the last minute less of a chore to watch.


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