Anyone who has ever waited for their team's game to be televised, while an already decided contest bogs down into
a parade of free throws and timeouts, knows the frustration of watching 30 seconds on the scoreboard turn into 10 minutes of futility. During the game's first 39 minutes or so, a personal foul is considered an infraction, both for the individual player and the team — something that's supposed to produce a penalty. Yet in the final minute, a foul is encouraged and rewarded by stopping the action and giving the losing team the chance to steal a victory through, essentially, breaking the rules. It transforms a team game into an individual free-throw-shooting contest, and worst of all for television, it is intensely boring. It's time for a rule change.
Other rule changes have benefited the game. I can recall when the dunk was illegal, and any player the referee believed was a little too aggressive around the rim could have his shot waved off. The slam dunk electrified the game when it was finally permitted, but the strategy changed from shooting a jump shot or layup to throwing the ball underneath to Shaq and letting him break the backboard. To correct this imbalance, the three-point shot was added to reward the long jumper and reclaim the game from the behemoths beneath the basket. Now, the excitement of a timely three-pointer rivals the dunk.
The shot clock sped up the game and ended the strategy of stalling and sitting on a lead. No one knows the pain of holding season tickets for a team whose game plan is to hold the ball for extended periods of time and only shoot if it's a layup more than the fans of the Memphis Tigers during the mid-1960s. Moe Iba, who was hired because he was the son of the legendary Coach Hank Iba, proved that none of his father's success wore off on him by routinely producing games with final scores of, say, 27-24. In the process, he ruined the career of Memphis prep star Mike Butler, who, with the proper coaching, might have been something akin to Pete Maravich. But the fans endured until Iba was finally shown the door, and the shot-clock made certain that such an abomination would never happen again. The excitement returned. The problem was fixed. Now, it's time to address the game's final flaw: the excruciating, final-second foul-fest and crawl to the finish.
These last-minute touch fouls that stop the action and turn games into the Bataan Death March should be called by the refs as what they are: intentional fouls. Just because a foul doesn't knock somebody down, it's still committed intentionally — with the purpose of stopping the action. Rather than put the fouled player at the free-throw line for a one-and-one, change the rule to make every non-shooting or open-court foul in the final minute an intentional foul and give the offended team an automatic two free throws. Or better still, do what they do in soccer: When a foul occurs in the open field, the offense just throws the ball back in and play continues. If there's no reward for fouling, the action goes on and the losing team actually has to play defense and sink their three-pointers.
The better team should win, and no basketballer who plays his heart out for 40 minutes should have a game rest on his free throw, unless he was fouled in the act of shooting. I don't believe Dr. Naismith ever intended for his game to be decided at the charity stripe. And, need I add, that if this rule-change had been in effect last season, my Memphis Tigers would be the defending national champions.
Randy Haspel writes the blog "Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this first appeared.