Whistle stops will get hoop back on track

Thursday, October 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Column by Jim Donaldson / The Providence (R.I.) Journal

Basketball, at long last, may be worth watching again.

College basketball, anyway.

They are going to clean up the game.

At least they say they are.

It promises to be an even tough assignment and the NCAA insists it is up to the task.

No more war on the floor.

Physical is out. Finesse is in.

Strength will have to yield to skill.

What has become an ugly game will be beautiful once again.

Unfortunately, that's likely to be only after we spend at least the first month of the coming season watching free-throw shooting contests.

Consider it short-term pain for long-term gain.

The NCAA's new emphasis on curtailing rough play will result in drastic changes, except in one important respect -- the rules haven't been changed a bit.

Instead, for the first time in years, they actually are going to be enforced.

"The (NCAA) rules committee has stepped forward and said: 'Enough is enough.' The game is too physical. It has lost most of its aesthetic beauty," said Mike Tranghese, chairman of the NCAA basketball committee and commissioner of the Big East conference.

Declaring that the game has "reached a critical stage," the rules committee is determined to clean it up.

The movement began when former Air Force Academy coach Reggie Minton chaired the rules committee, and has moved decisively forward under the new chairman, Kansas coach Roy Williams, who, according to Tranghese, is "passionate" about it.

"The game has become so physical because of the athleticism of the players that much of the artistry has been lost," Tranghese said. "It isn't as if we went in one year from the old style to the style we have now. It happened over time. The NBA has become so physical that it's beyond belief, and the NBA has a tremendous influence on the way kids play the game.

"But how we got to this point is irrelevant. We're going to change it. We've told the coaches and officals that this is going to be enforced. If they don't like it that kids are going to the line 'x' number of times, it's not going to matter. The officials are going to blow the whistle, according to the rules. Coaches and players will have to adjust.

"Will it be chaotic? Yes. There's no doubt this will be the most chaotic year in the history of Big East basketball."

In the long run, order will come out of chaos.

Officiating the game will be easier, and more consistent, because everyone will be on the same page.

There undoubtedly will be fans who'll scream: "'Let 'em play!" Which really means "Let 'em foul!"

But their cries will fall on deaf ears.

Everybody in college basketball is on board with this. The NCAA rules committee has gone to the NCAA basketball committee, which has gone to the conference commissioners, who have delivered the edict to their officials, athletic directors, and coaches: The game is going to be cleaned up. It is going to be played by the rules.

"We felt that, in general, the rules governing rough play are in place; they just need to be enforced much more strictly," Minton said after the annual meeting of the Rules Committee last May.

"That is our single point of emphasis for next season," said Minton. "We walk away from this meeting carrying that single message to conference commissioners, supervisors of officals, officials, coaches, and everyone that is a party to this -- we want to eliminate rough play all over the floor."

The rugby scrums in the lane will be eliminated. Clutching, grabbing, pushing, and pulling will not be tolerated.

Regarding post play, an offensive player can't dislodge a defender who has established his position in the paint. Nor can an offensive player, in the style of Shaquille O'Neal, stick his big butt into a defender and back him down toward the hoop. On the other hand, while a defender can put a forearm on the back of a player awaiting the ball, he will have to keep his hands off once the offensive player actually gets his hands on the ball.

With the enforcement of the rules as written, it once again will be possible for well-drilled teams to run offensive plays, because players won't be held up as they run their patterns, or get knocked off their routes. There should be more, and better, passing. Conversely, defenders shouldn't have to worry about illegal screens; about catching a shoulder or hip as they go past.

Cracking down on physical play should open up the game. Sheer power no longer will be as important. Finely-honed skills formerly muscled into near-oblivion once again will rise to prominence. Players at long last can begin spending more time practicing their shooting than lifting weights.

It's a promising start.

And if this works, then maybe, just maybe, the NCAA will have officials stop point guards from palming the ball every time they come downcourt.