Basketball, Or Free Throw-Shooting Contests

The NCAA apparently doesn’t believe in the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — at least, when it comes to college basketball.

This year the NCAA decided to change the rules by which the game is officiated.  Although many of us love college basketball and the NCAA Tournament keeps hitting new heights of popularity, the NCAA was concerned that the college game had become too physical and too low scoring.  So, this year, officials will be cracking down on “handchecks,” where defenders touch the offensive player in an effort to maintain contact and control.  The idea is to make the game more free flowing, allowing skilled offensive players to dart up and down the floor, making acrobatic dunks and shots, unimpeded by pesky defensive players.  Scores would rise, the theory went, and the game would have more dash and flair.

On Tuesday I watched my first game officiated under the new approach, and it sucked.  The Ohio State Buckeyes played the Ohio University Bobcats, and the game quickly devolved into a whistle-blowing and free throw-shooting affair.  The Buckeyes won, 79-69, after shooting 51 free throws.  51!  OU would shoot from the outside and make or miss, then Ohio State would come downcourt, try to penetrate the lane, an OU player would touch the Buckeye ball handler, and a whistle would blow.  The game was a leaden affair with no rhythm or flow and lasted about 20 minutes longer than normal. Five OU players fouled out.

Free throws can be exciting in certain contexts — say, at the end of a close game — but watching 51 of them being shot makes you feel like you’re hanging out at the local YMCA.  I cringe when I think of what Big Ten games will be like, where the play tends to be more physical and some referees are eager to showboat whenever they get the chance.  The depth of rosters will be sorely tested.  How many players will still be eligible to play at the end of games?

College basketball coaches and NCAA people are now saying that this year is likely to be a transition year, where lots of fouls are called as players adjust to the new rules.  Fans should just prepare themselves — it’s going to be a frustrating, free throw-filled year.

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Stalking Brutus

Here’s a weird codicil to the story about the Ohio University mascot who tried to tackle Brutus Buckeye at the start of the OSU-OU game:  it turns out that the OU mascot always planned to do just that, and indeed tried out for the job of OU mascot last year with the ultimate goal of tackling Brutus at the start of Saturday’s game.  The guy who wore the Bobcat mascot uniform for OU at the game, Brandon Hanning, isn’t even a student at OU any longer.

Who knows where the Bobcat guy could be lurking in the future?  Brutus could be innocently buying groceries, only to get blasted by the Bobcat lurking behind one of the produce bins, or he could be hoisting a beer at a campus establishment and look up only to see the Bobcat bearing down on him, teeth bared.  If I were Brutus, I’d consider getting a restraining order.

Mascot Love

The Buckeye Nation is up in arms because the Ohio University mascot, Rufus the Bobcat, tried to tackle Brutus Buckeye as the Ohio State team took the field on Saturday, and then engaged in some roughhousing in the end zone.  Not surprisingly, Brutus — like any rugby shirt-wearing stud — easily shook off the cat’s foul and unwelcome embraces.  Nevertheless, Ohio University has apologized for the unseemly mascot behavior.

I wouldn’t make too big a deal out of the Bobcat’s antics.  After all, the OU mascot is a feline.  Ohio State fans just should be grateful that the Bobcat didn’t scratch someone’s eyes out, start yowling, mark its territory on the  50-yard-line, or otherwise use the Horseshoe as a big litter box.