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Basketball rules changes I’d implement immediately (part 1)

Nobody likes stoppages. So why don’t we get rid of a bunch of them?

NEW YORK CITY, NY - MARCH 29: Washington State Cougars face off against the Texas A&M Aggies in the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden - Washington State forward Efe Abogidi (0)
We watch games to see stuff like this, not people standing around.
Jack Ellis/CougCenter

It’s a light news day around the Washington State Cougars, which means it’s as good of a moment as any to waste everyone’s time with a bunch of ideas that probably will never happen.

I watch a lot of basketball. Like, a lot — especially in the month of March. It’s my favorite sport, as it was my first love as a fan thanks to these guys.

At its best, basketball is a beautiful, free-flowing game that highlights the grace and athleticism of its players with minimal interruptions in play. At its worst, it’s a slog marred by stoppages, anti-climax, and the best players seeing too little of the floor thanks to the outsized influence of game officials.

If you watched much March Madness last month, you saw far too much of the latter. Here’s the first in a series of how I’d try and tilt the game back toward what makes it great.


University of North Carolina vs Gonzaga University, 2017 NCAA National Championship
Nobody wants this.
Set Number: SI801 TK1

Let’s start with something we all can hopefully agree on: Game stoppages are terrible.

The worst version of this is taking a protracted break near the end of a game to watch a couple of old dudes squint at a computer monitor to figure out if a ball heading out of bounds touched a player’s fingernail before trying to determine if the clock should say 7.2 seconds or 7.5 seconds. It doesn’t matter if the game is tight or a blowout — a replay review is, without a doubt, the least interesting thing that can happen in that moment.

Replay came about in nearly all sports because of blown calls that received outsized attention. But if you’re being honest with yourself, replay has hardly been the panacea that was promised. When I balance the exceptionally rare instances in which it corrects an egregious error that actually affects the outcome of a game against the amount of time wasted on trivial reviews with no material impact, I can only conclude that replay is a net negative on the sport. I tune into a game to watch basketball, not listen to talking heads mindlessly fill dead air for minutes on end while the refs try to parse out what happened and how much time should be on the clock.

It’s not the officials’ fault, by the way. They’re doing what they’ve been told to do, which is to “get it right,” and of course it’s going to take F-O-R-E-V-E-R to “get it right,” since what’s “right” is often unclear because, even in 2022, there are limits on angles and constraints on resolution and frame rates of video.

If a call is occasionally wrong down the stretch, I can live with that. We live with wrong calls in the other 38 minutes of the game, and those calls do have an impact on the outcome. Pretending the last two minutes are so special is silly, and it takes away from my enjoyment of the drama.

Less extreme compromise: If you don’t think you can live without the possibility of “fixing” an egregious error at the end of a game, can we at least have a 60-second clock for the review? If you can’t figure it out quickly, it’s very likely inconclusive, so just declare it inconclusive and get on with the game. Oh, and have that 60-second review done by a 4th official without the input of the three game officials so it can be even faster.

Eliminate bench timeouts

North Carolina v Kansas
Boring and unnecessary.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

I also watch a lot of soccer. You know what soccer doesn’t have? Timeouts. By some miracle, the players play for 90 minutes without being able to stop the game and confer with their coach. It’s the craziest thing! The continuous play is a big part of what makes the sport compelling to those of us who love it. There’s no reason why basketball can’t do more to make play more continuous.

And here’s the thing: My proposal to eliminate bench timeouts wouldn’t even be that extreme since college basketball already has four timeouts per half built in for television! And a halftime! That’s nine stoppages where coaches can implement strategic changes! Why on earth would anyone think we need more than that?!?

It’s more than enough, and you know it. They even reduced the number of timeouts a few years ago, so even college coaches know, deep down, that bench timeouts aren’t essential to the game.

The problem, of course, is that a lot of college coaches are control freaks with a lot of money riding the performances of people who can’t yet legally drink, and those kinds of guys will never willingly let their control go. Someone has to take it away from them. They’ll adapt! Let the players play and let the coaches yell out instructions from the bench in between those stoppages, such as during free throws. It will be fine.

If you’re worried about games getting out of hand because the coach won’t have that magical momentum stopper, I promise the players can learn to handle it. Wouldn’t you like to find out? I sure would! And if they can’t handle it, guess what? There’s a TV timeout right around the corner!

Also, if you’re worried about late-game situations going all to hell without the guidance of a proper adult ... well, I’ve got news for you: Everyone kinda sucks at it already! Again, I’m thinking of trade-offs: If we were gaining pristine execution at the expense of stoppages, I guess I’d have to live with it, but we most definitely are not doing that. If execution gets just a little bit worse but the end of the game gets a lot more fluid, that’s a trade I definitely make.

And, for what it’s worth, I’m of the mind that players do such a bad job at the end of games precisely because coaches have those timeouts. Players haven’t been trained to think about how to execute down the stretch because they’ve been trained their entire lives to defer to coaches. That can change. Let them prepare for these things in practice and just play.

Last thing: I know there are a few people out there who think timeouts actually add to the late game drama because it allows tension to build or whatever. That’s baloney. Watch a sport without timeouts in the final minutes and you’ll plainly see just how full of baloney your take actually is.

Let. Them. Play. It will all be much more exciting!

Less extreme compromise: One timeout per half, and it disappears after the under-4 TV timeout in the second half. That’s the best I can offer you.

I’ve got more suggestions, but you’ll have to wait for those on another slow news day.

Or maybe I won’t finish this series at all!


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