The Crawling Pace of High Level Basketball
As the college and professional basketball season is coming to an end, I feel the need to draw attention to something that has been bothering me and quite a number of other fans for a few years now. The pace of college and professional basketball, most notably in the last few minutes of a close game, has turned into a crawl. Referees have become too much a part of the game, especially at the end of tight games where every possession counts and a team’s momentum counts even more. The officials are not entirely to blame for this problem however, teams strategically keep their timeouts until the end of the game because, as I mentioned, that is when every possession’s importance is magnified. This can end up with each team having three timeouts near the end of the game, meaning that often five or six timeouts are called in the last two or three minutes of the game. These two factors combined make for college and professional basketball games that can get quite boring to watch as well as hard to keep engaged.
The amount of fouls called throughout the game on ticky-tacky contact is only made worse as the game drags on and viewers are more attentive and invested as the game winds down. My whole life I have been a fan of college and professional basketball, and I remember growing up in the early 2000’s watching Timberwolves and B1G 10 games when I was as young as seven years old. The style of play between then and now could not be any more different. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s physicality was the name of the game, and the team that was willing to play lock down defense, dive for loose balls, and box out like their life depended on it would win the game. This is the style of basketball I was taught to play and how I eventually did play in my high school years, you work hard to make good things happen for your team, you don’t flop and hope for a whistle from the officials. This makes it all that much harder to watch and appreciate basketball games now, where far too many players are flopping and hoping for a whistle and a chance to get to the free throw line. So, not only are games taking too long, but the style of play has deteriorated into a flop fest of players looking to draw fouls they know they don’t deserve. The style of play problem is for another discussion however, for now, we will stick to the problem of games dragging on. If you watch a game now, there are times where officials will blow their whistle during a physically played possession that leaves both teams standing there wondering why the official felt the need to place themselves in the game.
I decided to do a little research and analysis of my own. I watched the second half of a Michigan St. versus Oakland game from 2015, and kept track of various metrics as the game got closer to the end of regulation. I will note, however, that I knew this was a game that had a lot of fouls called in regulation and from that I could assume there would be a slower pace to the game. I should also note that while watching the game I did not feel it was extremely slow compared to other college games, and certainly not any slower than a professional game. In every televised Division one basketball game there is a media timeout at the four minutes remaining mark of each half. I decided to start timing and keeping track of different metrics at this point. The last three minutes and forty seconds of the game took over 21 minutes of real time to conclude. This means that the last three minutes and forty seconds of the game took over 5.7X as long in real time as it should have in game time if there were no whistles. So, while watching that span of the game, over eighty percent of the total time was spent watching either commercials or the players standing around doing nothing, as opposed to actual game action. A large part of all this time being taken is that in the last minute and twenty seconds there were six fouls called by the officials. This equates to one foul every 13 seconds of game time. This obviously is not what viewers and fans want to watch, and can become frustrating to the extent of wanting to turn the game off and read about the game or catch some highlights the next day. This is just one example in one game of the greater problem that higher level basketball faces, too many whistles and not enough game play.
I believe in order for the NCAA and NBA to maintain their marketability and fan base, something must be done about the way the games are not only officiated, but also the entire commercial aspect of the game must be changed. Instead of rewarding flashy players who beg and complain for/ about calls, hard work and physical ability should be showcased and promoted. If either association continues down this path for much longer I can guarantee I myself, as well as many others I have spoken to, as much as it hurts to say, will not continue watching these games with the same interest or intensity, or possibly at all.