Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rules need to be enforced, and changed, to shorten length of games

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.


Tim said...

I have to agree that its out of hand, and I especially notice it with college basketball over the last couple of seasons. When games I want to watch are the 2nd half of a doubleheader, I get irritated and watch the clock intently because more and more, we miss the key beginning of the second game.

I don't think they will able take away commercials because the money is getting ridiculous for the 'rights,' so my only hope is that with cable and satellite they start putting games on alternative channels.

Anonymous said...

Halftime interviews are so they can employ females, no other reason.


Gordon said...

College basketball is obscene. It took 21 minutes in "real time" to play to play the last two minutes of "clock time" on a recent Monday night. It wasn't TV that was the problem but the fact that a nine point game became a foul shooting festival..... AGAIN. Too many times outs and they often are used at games end when the outcome has already been decided.

If anyone thinks that "March Madness" is a bad now just wait until ESPN gets it's hands on it.

Your baseball observation is perfect. Now everyone wants to imitate Jeff Hargrove the human rain delay.

Hockey gets it right inclusive of the replay system. Since the lock out games have gotten shorter by 17 minutes.

Speaking of hockey....... BREAK UP THE ISLANDERS. A four game winning steak with a blow out over the Devils. Dare I say the playoffs are a real possibility!

The true sign of the apocalypse is that Rick DiPietro has been back a week and he hasn't gotten injured....... YET.

Gunnar said...

Halftime interviews are brutal, as there is never anything of value said. Rarely are the questions very good, but the answers come right out of the book of coaches cliches.

The other thing I do not understand about the start of a college basketball timeout and the coaches huddle...why are there so many suits? I was at a recent game, and there were eight coaches in the pre-timeout huddle, none of whom were the trainer.

Geoff said...

John, has the CAA surpassed the ACC in basketball now as well? As a life-long Wahoo fan, I was more concerned about the UNCW game last night than the Miami game Saturday, and it turns out rightfully so. Combined with William & Mary's big wins against Wake and MD, both on the road of course, not to mention some CAA wins over the Big East and Big 12, my comment was only partly made in jest.

Given that the ACC and PAC-10 are having down years by their standards, and that there doesn't appear to be any truly dominant team across the nation, is this the year that another non-BCS team emerges, GMU-style, come tournament time?

Mark said...

In all the years of watching games on TV I have seen exactly one interview at halftime that stuck in my mind and that was when the gal spoke to the Navy coach at this year's bowl. It was the only time I saw a coach speak in anything other than "coachspeak". Man, everything John said about that guy (Ken P. - cannot spell his last name)was absolutely true.

As far as timeouts go, if college basketball is such a valuable property (and it is) having a few less commercials would make the remaining ones worth even more. Supply and demand, right? I cannot see how everyone, fans, players AND the network would not benefit.

Dana King said...

I watch a lot fewer sporting events than I used to, and time of game is a major reason, even with a DVR. Baseball was my first love, but I often decide whether to watch a Fox or ESPN game based on the league. (NL games are much more briskly played.) Playoff games are ordeals.

I watch a lot of hockey now--as a Penguins fan this is a good time for it--and even got the Center Ice package this year. Aside from the fact that stuff happens the entire time the clock runs, the players don't strut and preen after every play (speeds up the game), substitution times are enforced (speeds up the game), and the NHL actually has rules about when you can't go to a commercial. (After a goal, during a power play, or in overtime.)

I might watch three or four college football games a year, tops. I'm 54 years old; I can't afford to invest that much of what time I have left waiting for them to move the chains so play can resume.

Matt Dick said...

I agree about the college basketball time out problem, but there also needs to be something done about the fouling for free throws at the end of close games. It's teh right tactic for the coaches, but from a fan's perspective, you get a close basketball game decided by a skill that is related to basketball, but isn't actually the *game* of basketball. It's awful to watch and slows things down horribly, timeouts or no timeouts.

I think any foul in the last two minutes ought to be three shots by the fouled team's choice of shooter. This would stop it right away. Or... and just spit-balling here, maybe the refs could call a flagrant foul when a team fouls flagrantly. That might work. Basketball is a beautiful game until it allows itself to be ruined like this.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget John L. Smith's halftime interview- that was memorable http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvrRvUYRdD8

Anonymous said...

Dana - speaking of the Penguins, when do they open their new arena? I know 'The Igloo' isn't very fan friendly in the modern sense, but on TV it looks awesome, and intimidating, when full and raucous. I hope the new building doesn't destroy that like so many new ones do.

Michael said...

As a former college athletics administrator, the end of the game for most events is absolutely brutal. Basketball is probably the worst.

If the referees would call an intentional foul especially at the end of the game, then you would see a near immediate end to the asinine practice of fouling to gain a possession.

Field hockey is a snore except the game moves along. IIRC, coaches get one time out for each half.

Lacrosse (men's and women's) is another sport that moves along. Heck, even with television involved the game maintains a good flow.

Football can be blamed on television. Another blog (Wizard of Odds, maybe) tracks this stuff. The shortest games are typically found in the Sun Belt. Guess who lacks a television package?

The longest games were in the SEC, quickly followed by Notre Dame home games. Blame television.

I agree with the person who said their televised sports habit are dictated by the broadcast. I watch almost all World Cup soccer matches because for 90 minutes you get almost uninterrupted action.

The NBA, MLB, and the NFL are completely unwatchable. The NBA has completely forgotten what a walk looks like and what palming is. I don't mind watching elite athletes in action. However, when they break the rules to be considered elite, then I guess I am no longer watching elite athletes.

Television has destroyed the flow of an NFL game. I despise when you get a punt (ad break), two plays and then end of quarter (ad break), a play and then punt (ad break). Heaven help us if there is a turnover on the second play because we get another ad break.

Mr Chauncy said...

Timely blog. Interesting the WSJ did an article (sorry, can't find the link) in which they claimed the actual time the ball was in play in an NFL game was 11 minutes. Yes, that's 11 minutes. Most games last 2.5 to 3+ hours. Go figure.

Dan F said...


Couldn't agree more about the pace of play. Interesting note, here in the SEC (I work at one of the league schools), they are instituting a time clock for this year's baseball tournament. Check it out here....


Anonymous said...

I had to laugh at this column because we are all assuming the various governing bodies and leagues care about the fans. The fact is that the leagues, especially the pro leagues, have nothing but contempt for their customers and fans.

Think about college football where a sizeable number of ticket buyers drive 4 or more hours to attend games. Attending a night game for these people is now a mandatory overnight visit.

Some rule changes I'd implement in college basketball: Only two timeouts per team per half. With the TV timeouts, good coaches shouldn't need more than two. After 12 fouls the shooting team gets 2 shots and the ball. After 15 fouls the fouling player is automatically fouled out no matter how many fouls he has. And for any intentional foul I would like to see the player go into a penalty box ala hockey and his team must play shorthanded for 2 minutes.

Rich in Denver

Mike K. said...

Regarding hitters slowing down baseball games -- a little Bob Gibson would have a big effect.