The only way to fix college basketball games is the Elam Ending
Hey everyone, long time no speak.
Most of last year’s newsletters were about college basketball, so what better time to get back into it than Selection Sunday?
Like most of America, I barely watched any college basketball this season until this past week, when I got sucked into watching a bunch of conference tournaments.
As I watched all those games, I’m once again fed up with the way they all slow to a crawl in the final minutes. When the excitement should be at its highest, the action is at its lowest.
Last year, I wrote a newsletter with a few ideas to improve the end of college basketball games. Fewer timeouts and 3 free throws on all fouls committed outside the 3-point arc were a couple of those ideas.
But the more I watch games this year, the more I realize that the last idea on my list is the only one that can truly fix the end of college basketball games: The Elam Ending.
How the Elam Ending works
Here’s the quick version of how the Elam Ending works: The game is played with a clock, but the clock is turned off at a certain point in the game. At that point, a target number is set equal to a predetermined number of points + the number of points the leading team has. The first team to reach the target number wins.
This format has been used in a couple of different ways.
In The Basketball Tournament: TBT, a summer tournament featured on ESPN, the game is played under men’s college basketball clock rules until the clock is turned off with four minutes left in the game. The target score is set at 8 + the number of points the leading team has at that point.
In the NBA All-Star game, the clock is turned off after the third quarter and the target score is set at 24 + the number of points the leading team has. (The NBA chose 24 as a way to honor Kobe Bryant.)
Why the Elam Ending works
The biggest thing slowing down the end of college basketball games (and pro basketball games) is all of the intentional fouling that goes on.
The team trailing in the game purposely commits fouls as a way to get the ball back. Can you think of another sport in which the trailing team is incentivized to commit penalties as a way to get back into a game? I sure can’t.
The Elam Ending gets rid of this strategy because there’s no longer a clock. The trailing team isn’t racing against time, it can just focus on playing good defense in order to get the ball back.
The Elam Ending also keeps the action going because there’s no longer any reason for the leading team to try to take time off the clock. It gets rid of those boring late-game possessions in which both teams just stand around for 25 seconds.
With the Elam Ending, both teams need to be working toward the target score at all times rather than working toward manipulating the clock in their favor.
And the best part: Every game ends on a made basket.
Is there a downside to the Elam Ending?
A few days ago, I saw someone on Twitter say that an Elam Ending could never be as exciting as the finish to Monday’s SoCon men’s championship game between Chattanooga and Furman.
And you know what? He may be right. That was one of the most unbelievable endings to any basketball game, ever.
But how often do we see an ending like that? Maybe once or twice a year. (Last year’s Gonzaga-UCLA Final Four game comes to mind.)
I’m OK with sacrificing one or two absolutely epic endings a year in order to make the other 99 percent of endings more exciting.
The foul-and-free-throw parade needs to go. And the only way that will happen is with the Elam Ending.
Thanks so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed this newsletter. If you aren’t yet following my work on Medium, please give me a “follow” here!