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Saturday, March 3, 2012
Time for league to adopt 6-foul rule
By ED ODEVEN
There are several sensible reasons for the bj-league to adopt the NBA's six-personal foul disqualification rule. And by doing so, Japan's upstart pro circuit would be increasing the number of personal fouls it permits by one.
For starters, there's been an influx of new referees, new players, new coaches and new teams every season since the bj-league was established in 2005, and one extra foul would give players — stars, career backups, and everyone in between — additional opportunities to do what they're paid to do: play ball.
It would also eliminate some of the depth-related problems some teams, especially the Takamatsu Five Arrows, face on the road, when they may travel with only eight or nine players. And in a game when a lot of fouls are called, including contests that go into double or triple-overtime, the number of available players can be slim pickings.
The growth of the league has been — and continues to be — more rapid than improvements in officiating and other factors that can be conveniently lumped together under a broad list of items dubbed "quality control."
In addition, back-to-back games produce additional mental and physical fatigue on the second day for the players; the same is true for the referees. There's little time to put the previous day's contest in the back of one's mind before gearing up for the rematch.
And this fact is obvious to anyone who's paying attention: Inconsistent officiating, especially those who are new to the pro game, is one of the biggest gripes cited by players, coaches, fans and avid observers of the 19-team circuit. The series opener, for instance, may feature 26 combined personal fouls in a one-sided win. A day later, a more physical brand of ball commences early on, as both teams aggressively try to be the tone-setter, and nearly twice as many fouls are called.
Let's say, for example, the Sunday rematch features the Osaka Evessa and Ryukyu Golden Kings, Western Conference powerhouse squads. Saturday's game may have ended after 9 p.m., followed by a game that begins 15 hours later.
It's no shock, then, when a player's instincts and timing are not as sharp as they are with proper rest. Ticky-tacky fouls can add up quickly, or questionable calls for a player's actions that don't truly impede a foe's movement.
Imagine this game sequence: Moments after the Evessa-Kings showdown tips off, perennial All-Stars Jeff Newton (Ryukyu) and Lynn Washington (Osaka) exhibit forceful play in the low post, vying for position on both ends of the floor. Neither commits a clear foul, but are both quickly whistled for two personal fouls before the end of the first quarter.
That sends them both to their respective benches. There's nothing extraordinary about that, but given the way the bj-league is set up, it makes more sense for players to have a six-foul max before becoming disqualified. This would give players who get that dreaded second or third foul early more chances to be in the game.
Sure, stars can wind up on the bench as quickly as someone at the bottom of a team's depth chart. But that's not the point. First and foremost, fans pay good money to see the stars play, and figuring out a way to give them maximum opportunities to be on the court makes the most sense.
In a league where roughly 60 percent of the starters are foreign players, a better way to apply the rulebook would be to include as many NBA rules as possible, including the personal-foul mandate. Many of the imports have NBA Development League experience, bringing NBA-style ball to Japan at a greater rate with each passing year.
Part of the grand appeal of basketball is the symphonic-like collaboration between five teammates — offensively and defensively. Indeed, watching their movements, with or without the ball, and the way a play unfolds never goes out of style.
The bj-league features a wide range of talents, from former NBA players Lance Allred (Kyoto center) and Kenny Satterfield (Saitama guard) to up-and-comers in Makoto Sawaguchi (Iwate guard who played his first bj-league game at age 18 last season for Akita) to mainstays in Taishiro Shimizu (Miyazaki guard) and Yuichi Ikeda (Niigata sharpshooter).
And don't forget this: The fact that all players are under contract for a maximum of one season and also the addition of players from the expansion draft and new-player draft each offseason creates a situation where game officials have limited chances to know the individual ways that each player performs his craft.
It takes time to know if certain players have a tendency to be fair competitors, dirty, hot-headed, composed, whiners, etc. Not knowing the players sufficiently, or having ample opportunities to do so, leads to too much inconsistency from the whistle blowers and, as a result, increased frustration from players and coaches.
So increasing the foul-out number to six would give the refs a greater margin for error, too. Call it a simple solution.
It's asking a lot (too much, actually) for refs, including new ones each year, to be at the top of their game when the league is in a perpetual stage of growth. And after absorbing seven new franchises during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, anyone with common sense would tell you it's time for the bj-league to take a deep breath (translation: hold off on additional expansion for a few more years) and assess the accomplishments and problems it has experienced during this era of rapid growth, and make necessary changes to improve the game.
But that's not how the bj-league operates. Defying logic is one of its chief traits. (And so the expansion continues. The Gunma CraneThunders and a new Tokyo franchise, awarded to replace the defunct Apache, will enter the league for the 2012-13 season.)
New players, coaches, referees and teams aren't the only reasons there's a shocking level of unfamiliarity throughout the league. According to this season's official league guide book, there are 107 home venues in use among the 19 teams, giving each team an average of 5.6 home courts.
That's a disturbingly high figure for a league that's trying, but doing a lousy job, of distinguishing itself from the rival JBL, where games are staged here, there and everywhere, and home-court advantage is a concept that rarely exists.
Yes, home-court advantage should matter. By having legitimate home courts, both teams — and don't forget the game officials — become familiar with a venue's unique sight lines, the quirks of the court, the lighting, the way the backboard and rim differ from dozens of other venues around the league.
Furthermore, every game includes fouls that elicit shock or disgust from one team or the other. But by adding an extra foul to a player's max allotment, it would produce a more competitive style of play for a league that has basically modeled its game after the NBA.
It would also give coaches more options — good options. Foul trouble would still exist under the proposed change, but probably happen less frequently.
And stars would have a better chance to play more minutes despite foul trouble. Seems like a no-brainer to me.