#HoopIdea: Check It Up

Does anyone remember when TrueHoop’s HoopIdea first started collecting ideas to improve basketball? It was a lot of fun to see serious thought given to practically implementing things like the four-point line, the draft wheel and a larger court. We all want to see things like four-point shots, but how far should the line be? What happens if it doesn’t fit on the sides of the court? Someone needs to to think about these things.

Well guess what? I’ve got a #HoopIdea. Hopefully, you’ve been reading this blog for a while, but if you haven’t here’s my general opinion of basketball: It’s a fantastic sport except the refs ruin almost everything. I’ve written about this before, but the personal foul is a gigantic problem for the game. It’s purely subjective, it’s the most common whistle in the game by a huge margin and it basically ensures that to some degree, the referees control the outcome of a game instead of the players.

Do you really think this deserves two free throws? Just check the ball up and start over

Do you really think this deserves two free throws? Just check the ball up and start over

In last week’s NCAA Tournament matchup between Gonzaga and Oklahoma State game (box here) there were 61 fouls, 78 free throws and five players that fouled out. All of that in 40 minutes. That means a foul called every 39 seconds, a free throw taken every 31 seconds and 28% of the players who got any game action fouled out. Isn’t that a glaring red flag? Aren’t those stats something that screams that the game is broken? The statistician in me wants to throw that game out and say they have to replay it because the officials made the results unreliable.

Le’Bryan Nash, the second-best player on the Cowboys, only played 17 minutes in the game before fouling out on a flagrant foul where he brushed a Gonzaga player’s hip in transition. Is that what we want? Good players sitting out for more than half the game. In college, a player who picks up two fouls in the first half can often end up sitting out the rest of the half because he’s in “foul trouble.” In pro ball, the unwritten rules are a player sits after two fouls in the first quarter, three in the first half, four in the first three quarters. These gray area personals stop teams from playing the best players and it happens in almost every game.

There has to be a way to keep all the best players on the court and take some of the control that the refs have and give it back to the players.

In my previous post about the personal foul, my solution was to give each official 10 fouls to call per game and once they had used them up, they don’t get any more. I think that’s an improvement on what we have now, even if it might lead to more physical play. More than a year and a half later, I have an improved idea: replace all non-shooting and non-technical/flagrant/intentional fouls with a check-up and reset the possession. Just like a foul in a pick-up game you might play at the gym. Think about how often a player gets a really iffy foul call guarding the ball 30 feet from the basket. Don’t you naturally just think there’s no way that foul should count the same as the rest?

Check the ball up. It's been accepted practice for years in sports movies.

Check the ball up. It’s been accepted practice for years in sports movies.

The way I see it, there are two very clear problems with personal fouls: 1) the cumulative effect of accrued fouls keeps good players out of the game, making it worse and 2) the volume of free throws is so great that it’s changing the game and re-directing the focus of offenses to try to get fouled instead of make shots.

My HoopIdea fixes both of those issues. The players don’t pick up cumulative ticky-tack calls, so the coaches aren’t forced to bench players as often and no team is getting rewarded by shooting bonus free throws for a ridiculous amount of time.

Besides those benefits, it keeps the game moving. There’d be a lot less needless stoppage of time to watch the time-consuming free throw process. Less standing and more playing. Think of all the stupid light-weight fouls that get called and just replace those with the ball back in the hands of offensive team and a shot clock reset.

Here’s how I imagine it working: after a non-shooting foul, the offensive team gets to pick a player to check the ball up. In the NBA, the shot clock would reset to 14 seconds if it had run below that (25 in college), just like with a kicked ball. The offensive player stands with a foot on the jump ball circle near midcourt and throws the ball to a defender, who stands with a foot on the three-point line. The defender passes it back and once the offensive player catches it, the shot clock starts and that player can pass, shoot or dribble from there.

The foul wouldn’t be charged as a personal, it wouldn’t add up to a player’s cumulative foul count, it would just reset the possession. If a defender takes advantage of the rule change and gets too aggressive with their defense, the referee still has the power to charge him or her with a technical or intentional foul.

The concept of the bonus free throws can still be kept in tact too, but it would have to be altered. Since there will be fewer cumulative fouls, the bonus qualifiers would have to be reduced to start on the fourth foul in an NBA quarter (instead of fifth) and the fifth foul in a half of college ball (instead of seventh). The same rules for would apply for the second foul under 2:00 left in a quarter or half. At that point, all fouls shooting or non-shooting would be rewarded with free throws. The first two bonus trips would be one-and-one and subsequent fouls are all two shots.

This isn't a player trying to make a shot, it's a player trying to get fouled.

This isn’t a player trying to make a shot, it’s a player trying to get fouled.

This way there are still free throws to stop defenders from getting too physical during an offensive player’s unprotected shooting motion, but a higher percentage of the game is decided during actual game action instead of at the referee’s discretion and free throws. Offensive players could still earn trips to the line, they just wouldn’t be going there 40 times a game. It would force the offensive players to actually try to make shots instead of beating their man and then barreling into the nearest help defender.

Oh, and flopping? What would the benefit be? All you’d get is a reset of a possession. It’s not like you would get a shot at two free points or even another tick toward shooting the bonus free throws. This HoopIdea would help curb flopping. If you wanted to flop and force a shot up, you’d run the risk of rewarding the defense with a poor shot if the foul doesn’t get called.

But Adam, you might say, that would change the game.

Yeah, I might respond, that’s the point.

The three-point line changed the game. The jump shot changed the game. The shot clock changed the game. The non-braking plexiglass backboard changed the game. The holes in the bottom of the peach baskets changed the game. Improvements are impossible without changes.

If you think that it would lead to defensive players intentionally targeting offensive players in non-shooting situations, think about the last pick-up game you played. There are no cumulative fouls there and do players punch or bear hug each other? they don’t. Besides that, players intentionally fouling opponents could always be assessed an intentional foul. Two of those and you’re out of the game.

What about at the end of a game when teams are fouling intentionally to put the other team at the free throw line? In this case, a coach or player usually tells the officials that they’ll be fouling on purpose to force free throws. With my HoopIdea in place, the same can happen. A team can alert the officials that they’ll be fouling put the other team on the line and the next foul will result in free throws.

The point isn’t to reduce penalties for fouling, it’s to increase actual basketball and eliminate the subjectivity of the fouling gray area.

If you think I’m a big, dumb idiot, put it in the comments, but you better explain yourself.