PHOENIX – NCAA basketball rules officially change only once every two years, and this year isn’t one of them.
But that didn't mean the 160 or so officials from the Western Officiating Consortium had a chance to play golf or otherwise goof around during their three-day stay at the Phoenix Airport Marriott this week.
There were still plenty of discussions over new tweaks to the current rules – most of them still involving the general push toward allowing greater freedom of movement – while the Western refs also went through a number of breakout sessions to study difficult areas of officiating.
Typically, the video clips shown in each breakout session drew a lot of discussion, much of it serious, some of it light, but always with the theme of trying to make the first call (so as not to allow a play to devolve into more fouls) and stay consistent.
After the breakouts were through Friday, NCAA officials coordinator J.D. Collins addressed the entire group with a detailed discussion of the tweaks to the new rules implemented last season. He broke them down for the Star beforehand.
While no formal rules were changed, a rule within a rule was added: Although coaches were not allowed to call timeouts in live ball situations starting last season, they can now call them if their team is trying to inbound the ball and the ball has not left the inbounder’s hands.
Collins said the rule was put into place originally to keep coaches from being able to call a timeout when standing next to an official as the action played out on the other side of the court.
“That rule worked,” Collins said. “But this year we’re going to allow that coach to call a timeout as long as the ball is still out of bounds, and that’s a good thing.”
Two rules will be interpreted differently. The first involves a secondary defender who strays into the restricted area to guard a ballhandler, a situation that used to automatically be called a block. Now that secondary defender will not be called for a block if he jumps straight up to block a shot.
“If his hands are above his head and he’s perfectly vertical and he’s playing defense on the offensive player -- as long as he jumps in the air and maintains his principle of verticality that is not going to be a restricted area call,” Collins said. “In some sense he’s cleansed himself of the restricted area by jumping in the air. If he remains on the ground as a secondary defender, it will be a blocking foul.”
The other rule interpretation change involves what officials now refer to as “the cylinder” – the immediate space both a defender and offensive player have around them. If that space is invaded by either side, it’s a foul – and that interpretation could wind up changing many former player control fouls into calls against the defense.
Here’s why: If a defensive player gets into an offensive player, and the offensive player goes up or down in normal motion to make a shot, the call goes against the defense even if the offensive player contacts (or hurts) the defender while doing so.
However, if the offensive player goes side-to-side while trying to clear space, and makes contact, it would be a player control foul against him.
“The change is if a player takes the ball below his waist, he’s making a normal basketball play,” Collins said. “If he takes it above his shoulders, he’s making a normal basketball play. Those two plays make the offensive player legal. If the defense is in (the offensive player's space) and there’s elbow contact, the foul’s gonna be on the defense.”
The new interpretation could also change the way players are coached to make traps, particularly at midcourt. They won't be able to get as close into a dribbler.
Defenders can’t just “walk up and body them and now there’s contact. That’s a defensive foul,” Collins said.
In addition to the rule adjustment and two interpretations listed above, there are also two changes in emphasis.
One is a greater emphasis on calling travel in the post if a player catches the ball, jumps in the air, then comes down and resets both his feet and shoots.
“We’re gonna call that traveling this year,” Collins said. “We have collectively done a horrible job of that in the past.”
Another is a greater emphasis on sportsmanship and bench decorum from the coaches box. Coaches received a one-shot penalty for getting out of the coaches box and a two-shot penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior.
“A coach is allowed to spontaneously react but the rulebook has a litany of items they can’t do,” Collins said. “I think you’ll see a higher focus on that from our officials nationwide but it’s not a situation where there’s a light switch and you go from one place to another. There is going to be confusion on it and our officials should address more technical fouls if a coach’s behavior continues. They’ve got to talk with them and communicate.”
While UA’s media day Thursday kept me from watching that day’s Western Consortium breakout sessions, I was able to watch presentations about freedom of movement and block/charge calls Friday.
Not surprisingly, the block/charge discussions generated a variety of opinions, with officials voting nearly in a 50-50 split on whether one call should have been called a charge or a block.
The officials went over in detail a close call between a driving Dillon Brooks of Oregon and a defending Ben Carter of UNLV, with many agreeing that Brooks was correctly called for a charge while Carter stood high in the key, appearing to be in legal guarding position but having slightly extended his chest and knee while falling down.
Western Consortium officials coordinator Bobby Dibler suggested that Carter’s knee initiated the contact, and that it was a block.
“Where did the contact occur?” Dibler said.
Bottom line: A defender can move to maintain his guarding position laterally or diagonally, but if he moves toward an offensive player and initiates contact, it’s a foul.
During both the block/charge and freedom-of-movement talks, presenting officials emphasized the need to make the first call of a play before things degenerate.
Official Chris Rastatter showed a video of a St. Mary’s-Gonzaga play in which officials missed a foul on a St. Mary's defender – and then, after the same St. Mary’s player found himself sandwiched between Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, officials instead whistled Sabonis for an illegal screen.
“That sends their big to the bench with his second foul and eight minutes left in the first half,” Rastatter said. “I imagine coach (Mark) Few was not happy that he didn’t get the first call.”
The officials meeting was the first that the Western Officiating Consortium has held with the Big Sky a full member -- all six Western Division I conferences are now members -- and Dibler was optimistic that would make a difference.
“The hope is that by having the six conferences together, there’s one message – from me or the presenters -- and that should help our consistency no matter who’s playing or who’s officiating the game,” Dibler said.