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Da Rules

If you don't get the reference in the title of the post, then you don't have kids and you don't watch nearly enough Nickelodeon. There were a few recent events regarding the NBA rule book that I found interesting. Lacking a decent hook for getting into the discussion, I'll just jump right in.

Turns out, it was a foul.

The league announced that after reviewing the final play of the Lakers-Spurs game on Tuesday, they have determined that a foul should have been called. Well, duh. This isn't particularly noteworthy accept for perhaps in one regard. You'll recall that the NBA decided to replay the final few seconds of a game between the Heat and the Hawks earlier this season. That particular decision turned into a complete farce, as the original game occurred in December but the replay didn't happen until March. By the time they replayed that game (a) Shaquille O'Neal, THE REASON A REPLAY WAS REQUIRED since it was his erroneous disqualification that the League was trying to rectify, was no longer on the Heat and (b) the Heat were in full tank mode and wanted nothing more than to lose that game, which is how it ended in the first place. But more importantly, it seemed like an incredibly dangerous precedent. As Chandler Bing once said, 'Can open, worms... everywhere!'

Why would the league replay an ultimately meaningless game from early in an 82 game regular season to rectify a mistake, but not do the same for a PLAYOFF game? Truthfully, I'm not advocating a replay for the Spurs in this game. Calls get missed all the time. Mere seconds earlier the Lakers should have gotten a 24-second clock reset and did not, while in the first half Tim Duncan got away with arguably the most egregiously obvious traveling violation of all time en route to a dunk. Bad calls happen, and it's part of the game.

But in the case of the Shaq DQ, the league, for some reason, decided that the bad call should NOT have been a part of the game, and went to ludicrous lengths to ameliorate the situation. So why not do the same here? Why not put Barry on the line for two free throws? I mean, I know that the teams are back in LA now, but you could even let Barry take the free throws in Staples Center, and if makes them, call the series 2.5 games to 1.5 games, and play the overtime prior to game 6 in San Antonio. Is it an extreme solution? Sure, but it makes a lot more sense than replaying a regular season game in Atlanta without the main actor in the drama.

(Again, I'm not actually advocating this, but trying to point out how inconsistent the league is. For what it's worth, I'm rather certain that the double standard stems from the fact that the error in Atlanta was made by a scorekeeper, not an official, and therefore not an employee of the NBA. They'll go to great lengths to correct OTHER people's mistakes, but expect us to simply accept theirs in the INCREDIBLY RARE cases where they actually admit them.)

There are two interesting asides to all of this. The Spurs to a man were pretty gracious and classy in the aftermath of that call. No whining, no name calling. They should be commended. In fact, one reason that a replay of the final seconds is not on the table is because the Spurs never filed a protest. Not that the league would have done anything about it if they had, but you have to like the way the Spurs conducted themselves. The other sidenote is that prior to the Heat-Hawks game, the last upheld protest in the NBA occurred November 30, 1982 - in a game between the Lakers and the Spurs.

Use of replay

To the surprise of no one, the rules committee has voted to expand the use of replay in the case of correctable errors. As always, this change is in direct response to specific problems from this season - the recommendation is that three pointers can be reviewed to see if the shooter was or was not behind the arc, and replays can also be referenced to reconcile clock problems like the one at the end of the third quarter of game 2 between the Pistons and the Magic.

Here's the problem: in an effort to try to limit the impact of replay reviews on the game, the league continually enumerates ONLY the situations in which they can be used. First it was last second shots if there were zeros on the clock. Surprise, surprise, that proved to inadequate. Now they've added a couple other reviewable things - which will be fine until another situation arises.

Where is the common sense? Could we not live with a rule that says that replays may be used when appropriate, when the importance of the situation warrants an impact on the flow of the game? Is that really that slippery of a slope? We ask referees to make judgement calls about a hundred times a game. This one would be infinitely simpler than most charge-block calls.

When Billups shot went in while the game clock was frozen at 4.8 seconds? That would be a time to use the replay. (The fact that the refs stood there and discussed how futile they felt for five minutes rendered the only reason NOT to use the replay, that it would create a delay, moot at any rate.) When Cat Mobley was fouled on a last second shot with the Clippers down three but none of the refs saw if his feet were behind the three point line? That would be another example. They're pretty obvious, really. Instead, we'll get a strict list of allowable review situations, until the next time that something should be reviewed comes up, and then they'll add that one to the list.


I could write a lot about this subject. In fact, over the years, I have touched on it several times. There was this exchange with Citizen John R in the comments of a post about Sam Cassell from 2006. The subject came up several times in February 2007 when I collaborated with other SBNation basketball bloggers on a post called 'If a Blogger were the Commissioner.' And in the world of international football, there was this post from my long forgotten World Cup 2006 blog (I bet you didn't know about my World Cup 2006 blog) about the more serious problem of diving in the so-called 'beautiful game.'

The gist of the change from the rules committee seems to be that plays will be reviewed after the fact, and fines levied when a clear flop is detected. That's a start, and in fact was a key component of my own approach for soccer. I'm not a big fan of adding lots and lots of rules - I'd prefer fewer rules and more common sense, although it seems like maybe that ship has sailed. But let's face it - the league is already watching video tape of every play, reviewing referee performance, looking at flagrant fouls, etc. If some fines levied against obvious flops can have an impact in stemming the tide, I'm all for it.

But we have to remember why flopping occurs: because it works. There are no specifics on this proposed rule so far, but unless the referees on the court modify the way they call things, fines will have zero impact. Does anyone think that fines keep a lid on technical fouls? Suspensions - such as the one that is imposed on a player's 16th regular season Technical - now that gets people's attention. Anyone notice how Kobe stopped racking up the T's once he got to 15?

But if the league is serious about reversing the trend toward flopping, they also have to give the referees other guidelines. Here's a question: why is that during a game, you and I can tell that a player is flopping (and I'm talking in real time, not after a replay), but a referee cannot? After all, it's their job. The answer of course is that they can tell, but they have been told that a certain amount of 'selling' of the call is acceptable and even to rewarded. Talk about your slippery slope. So change that immediately. Call offensive fouls when the attacking players illegally initiates contact (say by lowering the shoulder), whether the defender falls down or not. Because let's face it - these guys are big and strong - they only fall down because it is in their advantage. Stop making it be in their advantage, and they'll stop doing it.

There are other, even easier fixes. For instance, there should be no such thing as a charge off the ball. If a defender chooses not to get out of the way of a player who doesn't have the ball and gets knocked over, play on. Next time he'll get out of the way. But it's pretty clear to me that fines will have no impact unless the referees also begin to call the game differently. Think Anderson Varejao will care about a fine, if he successfully wins the ball back on a key possession by duping the referee? The fine will be a friggin' badge of honor. A validation of his art.