Necessary NBA changes

Suggestions for NBA Rule Changes in 2007-08

Since the NBA is dealing with an incredibly uncomfortable refereeing controversy thanks to Tim Donaghy it seems clear that NBA officiating will be even more scrutinized in the upcoming seasons. As a response, I’ve come up with a few suggestions that may help lead to 1) better officiating and 2) a better product.

The most important suggestion I have is the one most likely to cause controversy. We need a fourth ref. Yep, let’s add to the incompetence. I know that there are not enough good refs as it is but part of the reason for this is simply that there are too many things for refs to pay attention to each trip down. Nobody suggests that referees don’t work very hard because they do. Bottom line is that this is a really difficult job to do. The speed, size and smarts of NBA players mean it’s often difficult to determine fouls, possession, timing and violations even with replays. It’s silly to assume that the guys in stripes will always get it right. However, having a 4th ref will mean that each ref will have less responsibility, more help and hopefully, a specific area of the court to monitor.

Please understand that I’m well aware of the trouble the league has had finding good refs. Adding 15 more is not ideal but the hope from this quarter is that having less to do and less to manage will make even the most nominal of refs better and decent ones solid. I’m confident that the few top notch refs would be impacted the least.

All four of the refs would have a side of the floor (2 on the sidelines, 1 on the baseline and a trail official) as their position for any possession. The refs would rotate areas throughout the course of the game to minimize the possibility for conflict. This change can also help reduce the incidence of the always uncomfortable sight of a ref forty feet away making a call while a ref ten feet away swallows the whistle. With four refs, there would be no reason for anyone to make those absurd stretch calls.

To help realize this change, the league needs to make a couple small physical adjustments to the court. (Actually, I’ve been stunned that this hasn’t happened already.) The court needs to be widened at least two feet. Four feet would be even better. Too many games are impacted because a size 17 shoe hits a sideline (or the three point line) inadvertently. Driving lanes would also improve and the game as a whole might open up a bit.

There also needs to be an enforced restricted zone on each baseline. There is no reason to have photographers and cheerleaders as close to the court as they currently are. Referees need to be able to observe the bumping and grinding safely and up close. Safety for player would be an added benefit. The first time LeBron or Agent Zero incurs a knee injury from falling into a photographer everyone will say I told you so. I’m telling you so now.

Another way to help officials monitor games is to remove the use of drawing charges as a defensive tactic. The primary defender block/charge call works pretty well and doesn’t need much adjustment. The necessary change regards secondary defenders who insert themselves into the play for the purpose of drawing a charging foul. The new rule should presume a block call unless the offensive player initiates contact.

Referees would no longer need to make the choice between watching the action ten feet in the air or the interaction of a giant sneaker with a painted circle. What a ridiculous thing to ask of officials. Get rid of the circle, get rid of undercutting, and get rid of cheap defense. This removes a major source of conflict between officials and coaches (not to mention fans!).

Speaking of conflict, last season the league tried to minimize player conflict with referees and it worked to an impressive degree. Now, even the appearance of ref impropriety in games will be a profound negative. Smart players question calls early on to intimidate refs into giving them calls. That will increase tremendously since no ref wants to get the ‘Donaghy’ chant. This is an area where the league will need to give its officials help. To inhibit player dispute in games, I propose a new technical foul system.

There should now be two kinds of technical fouls. Violation Technicals (defensive 3 seconds, delay of game, rim hanging, extra timeout being called, etc…) would continue to be single free throw technicals. There would be a new classification for Conduct Technicals that would be punished harshly. CTs would be penalized with two free throws and returned possession. CTs need to include belligerent physicality, egregious player arguments, bench techs and perhaps the second head coach tech in a game.

I hate to even suggest it, but the NBA should also look into a challenge system of some sort. It works reasonably well in the NFL and in the NBA it would quickly, definitively clarify important issues. Instant replay is already used to a small degree but there are times when coaches would love to argue a 2/3 point shot, an out of bounds call or a shot clock violation. Allowing two challenges per half, with a NFL style punishment of timeout loss for incorrect challenges, would barely interfere with gameplay as nearly all these situations can be reviewed with just a couple views of a replay.

Finally, the jump ball is criminally underused. There are far too many times that refs honestly don’t know who touched a ball last. Guessing should cease to be the solution. If the league won’t encourage replay use in these situations, then a center court jump ball is the next best option.

I’ll be interested in any comments or reflections on these possibilities.


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