NEW ORLEANS — What if this column were about a man hanging from a cliff, and you read it all the way to the final paragraph, and now he’s dangling by only one finger, cold wind howling in his face, and, uh-oh, he’s starting to slip —
Stop. Have you driven a Ford lately?
— we’re back, and he’s still there, about to slip off that ledge —
Stop. Prudential. Get a piece of the rock.
— we’re back, and he’s almost —
Stop. Bud Dry. Why ask why?
— we’re back, and he’s —
So much for the column. You just fed it to the goldfish. Why? 1) The story lost its drama 2) You were so annoyed you wanted to kill me.
Which is what’s happening to college basketball.
Not the wanting to kill me part.
The drama part. I am talking about the last two minutes. I am talking about time-outs and intentional fouls. I am talking about commercials. I am talking about the most goose-bumpy, heart-racing sport in this country grinding to a halt at its very climax.
I call it Courtus Interruptus.
Or haven’t you noticed the typical “finish” to a one-point college basketball game?
9 seconds: Foul. Free throws. Time-out.
8 seconds: Inbounds to half-court. Time-out.
7 seconds: Inbounds, foul, time-out.
6 seconds: Quick shot, swish, time-out.
4 seconds: Foul, free throws, time-out.
3 seconds, Can’t get ball inbounds, time-out.
2 seconds: Quick shot, time-out.
1 second: Foul, time-out.
What you end up watching mostly is players nodding their heads in a huddle, and Chevy trucks bouncing in slow motion.
This is drama? Save the game; change the rules
There are several causes for this phenomenon. And several effects. And several answers. And since I am here in New Orleans and Dick Vitale is not, at least not yet — I know, because I would have heard him by now — I am going to beg for change. Save the Final Four! Change the Rules, Babeeee!
Let me explain.
First, there are too many time outs in televised college basketball; one is guaranteed every four minutes of action. They call it “time-out on the floor.” Of course the only folks who believe that phrase are 1) morons and 2) all you Neil Diamond fans, who know the song, “I Am, I Said” in which he sings, “No one heard at all, not even the chair.”
If a chair can hear, a floor can call time-out.
And you people should call the clinic.
The rest of us: wisen up.”Time-out on the floor” means “TV time-out.” A chance to sell beer, Nikes, and other essentials of young people’s lives.
And by providing these eight guaranteed time-outs each game, TV enables coaches to save their real time-outs (four per team) until the very end, where they often insist on using every one of them, even if they’re trailing by 30 points, hoping, no doubt, that a bolt of lightning will come from the rafters and kill the opposing team, causing a forfeit.
Q. When is .8 seconds a mini-series?
A. The end of a college basketball game.
Thus we get finishes such as we had in Temple-Michigan, where the Wolverines last 16 shots were free throws. Or Florida State-Western Kentucky, where the last two minutes were like Richard Gere at the Academy Awards: interminable.
Sometimes, TV tries to liven the action by sticking a microphone inside the huddle. But what we usually get is this:
COACH: AWRIGHT! AWRIGHT! JACK, YOU’RE HERE, JAMES, YOU’RE (squeak) HERE, TONY, YOU GO, WAIT (squeak, squeak) YOU GO HERE! (squeak) OK! OK? JAMES? WHERE’S JAMES?
This is a shame. For the first 38 minutes, college basketball is flying bodies and screens and picks and jams and slams and heavy-breathing rebounds. Then, suddenly, it has the pace of a voting booth.
Ebb and flow is reduced to ebb. Final Four can still be saved
I said I would offer a suggestion, and I will. Right now. Limit each team to one time out in the last two minutes. It’s fair. It’s equal. It puts pressure on coaches not to call that time-out frivolously, and it ensures that the game keeps moving.
Second, permit each team to foul only three times in the final two minutes.
After that, every foul is an automatic point for the opposition. What’s that,
you say? That hurts the losing team’s chances to win? Hey. The object of basketball is to ride your game plan to victory, not to bank on the other team missing free throws.
By adopting these rules soon — I’m thinking, maybe tomorrow morning — the Final Four can guarantee the kind of game fans come to expect. Action. Suspense. Drama that builds and releases in a dizzying rush.
Of course, this would also means less commercials. And the odds of that happening are about the same as John Chaney kissing Steve Fisher.
Or Neil Diamond recording a good song.
Just ask the chair.
Or the floor.