- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2009

A college basketball official’s job in sorting out bumping and clashing in the paint requires a keen eye and the ability to make a split-second decision.

This season, another skill is necessary: a vivid imagination.

Among the tweaks to the game this season is an adjustment to the block/charge rule similar to the NBA. No charges can be called when a defender is stationed in an 18-inch-by-24-inch box underneath the basket.

One problem: Unlike the NBA, there will be no on-court lines to denote the area.

“The block/charge rule is something that will be a real challenge for the imaginations of officials,” George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. “OK, let me see. Was he inside that rectangle or not? You can’t go to the monitor. You can’t see it on the court. You just have to have guys who can visualize very well. I’m going to recommend that we send them to visualization classes.”

That, of course, wasn’t the point of the rule to begin with. And it will have a different impact than in the NBA, where man-to-man defenses predominate and the lane is often clear for a drive to the basket.

Not so in college, where zones are popular and some teams have pinned some of their success on an ability to earn a well-timed charge call.

“We want to stop the wrecks, the crashes, the bodies on the floor in and around the basket,” said Reggie Greenwood, the Patriot League’s coordinator of officials. “That’s the main focal point. When they tried to go with the rule like the NBA, they found it a little bit difficult to implement because the NBA game is slightly different. So what we’re trying to avoid is having players standing under the basket as a secondary defender to try to take a charge or block and not play defense.”

It sounds like a sensible idea. But it also places an official in a bind. After all, how is a referee supposed to keep an eye on the ballhandler and attempt to monitor where a defender’s feet are planted when contact is made?

That will require a little help from a second official. Yet even that doesn’t account for the problem of consistent interpretation of the rule, because one man’s invisible box is different from another’s.

“Imaginary,” Miami coach Frank Haith said wryly. “Tough, tough rule. The problem is the judgment of where the box is. It could be here for some people. It could be here for some people. So it’s going to be a difficult thing to officiate. We’ll see how it goes. I think eventually we will get to putting something in the lane.”

That won’t be the case this season, because the rule tweak wasn’t accompanied with the paint to help an official. Larranaga jokingly asked if it were possible to slap a logo or advertisement to assist refs in what isn’t an easy situation to be placed in.

Some coaches believe the adjustments simply will lead to more no-calls because those will draw fewer complaints than actually whistling a block.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. “There’s going to be a lot of bodies falling down with no whistles because in the end the referee is going to say, ‘Look, I don’t know what the call is, so I’m not going to call anything.’ So I just hope a lot of guys don’t get hurt.”

There certainly would be less incentive to take a hit if there were no charge call coming. But to traditionalists, the discussion of the invisible area beneath the basket seems a little needless given the history of the rule book.

“You’re not supposed to take a charge underneath the basket,” Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “If a guy’s underneath the basket [and makes contact], obviously, the guy’s released the ball. So it’s not like this is a revelation where they woke up one morning and said, ‘We’re going to have an imaginary circle under the rim.’ It’s been there forever. How can you shoot the basketball being underneath the basket?”

That, of course, is difficult. But so will be the ability to call things efficiently, especially as teams try to find ways to maintain their usual style of play and officials attempt to follow the rules dutifully while not needlessly injecting themselves into the flow of play.

But with no on-court lines, a lot could be left to the imagination.

“It’ll be a joke,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “because it’ll become a joke.”

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