Can we talk this morning about how long it takes to play games these days?
As someone who has spent most of his adult life dealing with deadlines while covering games I’m always aware of how long a game is taking even when I’m sitting at home half-watching while I’m reading something.
It’s truly gotten ridiculous.
I kind of went around the bend on this eight days ago when Louisville and Villanova played a game in which something like 90 free throws were shot and a 7 o’clock tipoff ended (in regulation) at 9:45. Even Brent Musburger, who was doing the next game in the doubleheader couldn’t resist commenting when he was doing an update that, “I hope your game ends before ours does fellas.”
There were about two minutes left in the first half of Oklahoma State-Oklahoma by the time Louisville-Villanova finally ended.
Last Saturday I spent the day at home with games going on from 11 a.m. on. Not one game I watched all or part of ended inside the two -hour window that TV plans for a college basketball game. Most didn’t come close. There are now NINE TV timeouts in every game—and by the way is there some way to stop calling them, ‘media timeouts'? I have never asked for nor been given a time out in my life. They exist for TV and, occasionally, for radio. One of those timeouts is the first called time out of the second half, which is “technically,” a 30 second time out but “becomes,” a full timeout.
Utterly ridiculous. Here are some other things that delay games: the mindless halftime interviews with the coaches. Understand that when the breathless sideline reporter is asking the coach what went wrong/right in the first half and usually getting gems like, “we have to rebound better,” or “I thought we shot the ball very well,” the halftime clock isn’t moving. It’s frozen until the coach pulls free—which Wake Forest’s Dino Gaudio almost literally had to do on Sunday night because the reporter insisted on asking him what he planned to do to rebound better (gee, I don’t know go out and recruit taller players the next 15 minutes?)—and gets to the locker room.
There are also times—especially on ESPN—where coming out of commercial the producer will insist on getting the ‘talent,’ on camera for 30 seconds to say something brilliant like, “What a great atmosphere here tonight,” while play is held until they’re finished.
Wait, I’ve got more: There are two rules changes that need to be made: 1. Once a player is handed the ball to shoot his first free throw he can’t have contact with his teammates until the second shot is out of his hands. All of this slapping hands after the first free throw— they do it make or miss nowadays—is silly and if you add it up over a course of a game adds five to ten minutes. 2. When a player fouls out this bit with both teams running to the bench for an impromptu time out needs to stop. Coaches do not need 30 seconds at that point to decide who to sub. They know who they’re subbing and if they don’t—tough. Give them 10 seconds and tell the players to get lined up at the free throw line in the meantime.
Another thing: Officials need to be far more vigilante about getting teams out of their huddles. This deal with coaches having to stand on the court and talk to one another before they talk to the players is ridiculous. To quote Red Auerbach: “You’re getting paid millions to be the head coach you damn well ought to know what to say to your players during a time out.”
The other night I was at a game (honestly I don’t remember which one) and one team was lagging coming out of the huddle. When the official went in to get the players, the coach actually held up his hand to say, “give me a minute here, I’m not quite done.” The response to that should be simple: Signal the official who has the ball to start the 10 second clock and then put the ball on the floor and start counting to five. Remember when officials did that? People got out of the huddle then.
I know these are all little things but they add up. College basketball games shouldn’t be taking two-and-a-half hours. When we get to postseason they get longer: halftime on CBS goes to 20 minutes instead of 15 (plus the time for the silly coaches interviews); 30 second time outs become 45 seconds to get in extra commercials. At this rate it won’t be long before the national championship game ends at midnight on the east coast.
It’s also worth noting that the 20-minute halftime came about in 2003 when the war in Iraq started on the first day of the tournament. CBS asked for the extra five minutes to do war updates. Fine. But the next year the time outs were still 20 minutes and they’ve remained that way ever since, which certainly isn’t good for the players. I’ve been in locker rooms. By about the eight minute mark, everyone is getting antsy to get back on the court. When I brought this up with the NCAA basketball committee a few years ago someone said, “Well, you know when you’re in a dome it takes longer to get to and from the locker room.”
Five minutes longer? How about 10 seconds longer—if that.
This problem isn’t unique to basketball. College football is a joke. I’ve said for years the first down rule should be changed to stop the clock ONLY in the last two minutes of each half. The notion that you need to stop the clock on a first down with 13:47 left in the first quarter is ludicrous. Four hour games are just too long even if they have dramatic finishes. They may not seem so bad watching at home where you can keep clicking around to other games during the endless commercials but if you’re in the stadium those commercials are torture. Nothing is worse than a Notre Dame on NBC where some commercials last longer than the careers of a lot of college basketball players.
Baseball, especially in the American League or if Tony LaRussa is managing, can take days to play. There are two rules changes that need to be made: Trips to the mound should be limited not to one per inning per pitcher but to one TOTAL for the starting pitcher and one more TOTAL after he leaves the game. A catcher shouldn’t be allowed to go out to the mound more than once per batter. Learn how to change signals with a runner on second base in spring training.
Far more important is keeping batters in the box. We now have a generation of hitters who routinely step out after EVERY pitch. They re-adjust their gloves, tug on their helmet, kick at the dirt, take a deep breath and step back in. PLEASE. Simple rules-change: You can step out one time during an at-bat. The only way you can step out more than once is if you’re hurt or knocked down. While we’re at it, make umpires ENFORCE the 20-second rule on pitchers with the bases empty.
The NFL has gotten better although it is maddening when TV takes back-to-back time outs after a touchdown or field goal: team scores, extra point is kicked—commercial. Kickoff—commercial again. As I said, at home it isn’t so bad. In the stadium, especially when it’s cold—brutal. The NBA needs to make two rules-changes: teams get one time out in the last two minutes and no more and get rid of the move-the-ball-to-midcourt after a time out rule. In what other sport are you allowed to advance the ball half the playing field as a reward for calling time out?
Hockey’s pretty good overall although having the hockey package this year I’ve noticed there are a number of linesmen who think fans come to the arena to watch them drop the puck. I know they want it to be fair and get it right but for God’s sake drop the thing and let’s move on.
The biggest change though is still college basketball. I know I sound like I’m 100 when I harken back to my days as a kid when games were played in 90 minutes. Those days are gone and aren’t coming back but it is completely out-of-hand. I know TV needs its time outs but NINE—seriously NINE? Throw in a couple more commercials at halftime. We can live without the yammering studio shows anyway. Throw in a couple of simple, sensible rules changes and for the love of God get rid of the halftime interviews. The coaches hate them, the fans hate them, please tell me who likes them?
I’m guessing it must be some of the same people who, at the “urging,” of John Calipari are planning to fill Rupp Arena one Saturday to jump up and down in front of the cameras for ‘GameDay.’ My God, The Apocalypse really is upon us.