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Nine problems with college basketball on TV — and how to fix them

Texas Tech's players walk off the court after a timeout. (John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

During this unique college basketball season, I have watched more games on television than normal, in large part because I have been able to actually attend games only on a limited basis. Watching this way has reminded me of several things about the college game — and about watching it on TV — that drive me a little bit crazy. In no particular order, here’s the list, complete with my proposed solutions.

1. Teams are given what amounts to a timeout when a player fouls out.

You see it happen all the time: A player fouls out and the coach grabs a clipboard while his players surround him. The officials stand by helplessly because the coach has 30 seconds to make a substitution.

Solution: Coaches don’t need 30 seconds to find a sub; give them 10 and keep the players on the court and ready to play when the sub comes in.

2. Players slap hands with teammates after a free throw — whether a make or a miss.

The great Red Auerbach once said if a teammate went anywhere near a free throw shooter — especially after a make — or if one of his players left the foul line to slap someone’s hand, he would . . . well, I can’t repeat exactly what he said he would do. Family newspaper.

Solution: Once a player receives the ball to shoot a free throw, no one can touch him in any way. He can take one step back after his first shot but no more. This simple rule would shave at least five minutes off every game.

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3. Replays take far too long, far too often.

It is ridiculous how long officials take with some replays. In Sunday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game, officials took close to three minutes to decide an out-of-bounds play when the ball was clearly off a Michigan State player.

Solution: If you can’t see an obvious error in 90 seconds or less, the call stands. If you aren’t certain a flagrant foul is warranted in that time, don’t call it. If it is flagrant, it should be easy to see. Start a clock as soon as the officials go to the monitor. At 90 seconds, a decision must be made.

4. The number of TV timeouts is out of control.

There are nine TV timeouts in every regular season game and 10 in every NCAA tournament game. No wonder games routinely take 2 hours 15 minutes or longer.

Solution: At the very least, get rid of the extra TV timeout initiated by the first 30-second timeout call of the second half. (During the tournament, this also would apply to the first 30-second timeout call of the first half.) Add a couple of extra halftime commercials if need be; we can live with a little less time listening to the talking heads. College teams also get eight timeouts: four for each coach. Cut it to three apiece. Get rid of the use-it-or-lose-it first-half timeout. I have seen NCAA tournament games in which a coach calls the use-it-or-lose-it in the last 10 seconds, leading to a full television commercial break. That’s three minutes, followed by 10 seconds of play, followed by 20 minutes of halftime.

5. Speaking of halftime

These ludicrously long 20-minute breaks came into existence in 2003, when the Iraq War began the week the tournament opened. CBS requested the longer halftimes to do war updates, a legitimate request. But the 20-minute breaks have never gone away. About 10 years ago, I asked members of the NCAA tournament committee why that was so. Here’s the answer I got: In some of the domes, the walk to the locker room is longer than in traditional arenas. I have made those walks; the longest any of them take for an old guy like me is about a minute. What are the players doing, crawling? The longer halftimes remained to allow for more commercials, as if the 10 TV timeouts and the eight team timeouts aren’t enough. I have been in halftime locker rooms. Ten minutes is plenty; 15 is bearable; 20 is torture.

Solution: Um, let me think …

6. The growth of the inane phrase “dribble-drive.”

TV talking heads love to use this term. Maybe they think it makes them sound smarter. Question: How do you drive the basketball without dribbling? You can’t — not legally, anyway.

Solution: All the networks already hold preseason “seminars” with their announcers, usually to remind them to try not to be critical of anyone and to say “N-C-A-A,” and not “N-C-Double-A.” Add this: Do not say “dribble-drive.” Just say drive. And every once in a while throw in an “N-C-Double-A,” just to make the Indianapolis folks crazy.

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7. Referees who call fouls that don’t affect the play.

I blame most of this on the “N-C-Double-A.” To cut down on hand-checking, officials were told about five years ago to call any contact they saw. Before that, they were told to use common sense: If there’s contact but the dribbler isn’t affected, play on. Often, refs now call fouls that stop an offensive player who already has gotten past a defender. They’re blowing the whistle so that supervisors grading them will note that they are doing what they have been told to do, which helps get them into the NCAA tournament.

Solution: Play “advantage.” If contact creates an advantage for the defender, blow the whistle. Otherwise, play on.

8. Halftime stat sheets for officials.

I have been in halftime locker rooms with officials when the stat sheets are delivered. Why do officials need to look at stats? Their job is to call the game, not analyze how their work might affect it. If I had a dollar for every game I have seen in which officials call perhaps 10 fouls in the first half and then have both teams in the bonus by the second TV timeout of the second half, I wouldn’t be writing this column. (I would be retired, and my editors would think the world was a better place.) I know officials look at how many fouls they have called and adjust the way they call the game accordingly. This is unfair to the players, who rightfully think the game will be called the same way in the second half as it was in the first. It can also make a game that was fun to watch for the first 20 minutes a nightmare for the second 20.

Solution: No stat sheets for refs. They want to see one at the end of the game, fine. Halftime? No way.

9. Stop calling them “media timeouts.”

This is almost as annoying as “dribble-drive.” I have covered basketball as a member of the media for 43 years. I have never once requested a timeout, nor have I been given one. The nine (or 10) timeouts that take place by rule each game exist for one reason: television.

Solution: Call a TV timeout what it is: a TV timeout. We have enough euphemisms in the world. And while we’re at it, no more news releases about fired coaches who agreed to “part ways” with the organization firing them.

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