It's been difficult getting into NCAA Basketball's “March Madness” because “non-officiating” drives me crazy. What had been the relaxing of certain rules over the years is now a full-blown free pass for players to travel, double dribble and palm the ball at will. Apparently, the basketball rulebook is considered more of a set of general suggestions, not to be taken literally, so the flow of the game isn't interrupted.
In any sport, officiating is made in real time (if you don't include video replay) so there is an acceptance of human error and subjectivity. I'm fine with a mixture of mostly good calls with a smattering of bad calls in a game. What is hard to accept is – no calls. Like one of Pavlov's dogs, every time I see a flagrant rule violation, I begin to salivate – waiting for the whistle that never blows. Back in the last millennium, when traveling or “walking” was still an infraction in basketball, the call would often be disputed. Did he drag his pivot foot or not? Now, we can watch players have alternating pivot feet, do the moonwalk and then palm the ball while they resume their dribble.
What are the referees watching? It reminds me of Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, only being seen from the waist up, because the refs aren't looking down. Back when there were only two officials, instead of three used today, those violations were seen and called. A recent study reported an estimated 50 traveling violations in a typical NBA game are not called. Sure, players are able to make some incredible plays but often because of incredibly lax officiating.
Today's basketball has mutated from the sport it was 40 years ago. The “show” element began to supersede the “skill” aspect of the sport first in the NBA and has metastasized to the college level and below. Pro sports are part of the entertainment industry and naturally are driven to attract viewers. Fans want dazzling spin moves and thunderous slam dunks – not meticulous dribbling.
There is a flip side to “dumbing down” the game in order to create more excitement. Defense is negated when it becomes increasingly difficult to force a turnover or make a steal because the lack of rules enforcement favors the ball handler. UCLA won seven consecutive national championships in large part due to their tenacious full-court press. Now, a ball handler will methodically walk the ball up the court because the dribble is anything he wants it to be, making defensive pressure more likely to result in a foul than a turnover.
Perhaps the most aggravating thing about watching this newfangled basketball is that it makes me feel like the crotchety old guy that I swore I'd never become. You know the type. The one that thinks he's always right and is incessantly lamenting of the values and practices of the good old days. In an earlier age, maybe I would have written, “Back in my day, the janitor would have to get up on a ladder and retrieve the ball from the peach basket after a goal. The game is just not the same anymore. This fast-breaking silliness drives me crazy.”