Halfway through college basketball's first major season of change regarding new officiating protocol, the man in charge of overseeing more than 800 officials is satisfied with how things are turning out.
NCAA national coordinator of men's basketball officiating John Adams said, across the board, Division I officials have been implementing the points of emphasis regarding hand-checking and the block/charge rule with consistency -- for the most part. It's not perfect. There have been cases where the zebras have failed in this pursuit, but overall, he's satisfied.
"I'm pretty honest about stuff like this," Adams told CBSSports.com. "Given everything that was thrown at officials this year … I think they've done a very, very good job of adapting quickly and officiating games according to the standards of the NCAA and their conferences. I don't think there's any question that anecdotally these rule changes have worked. Scoring through Jan. 5 was up six and half points through this time last year. There were only four more fouls per game. Turnovers are down almost two per game and with exception of [Kentucky-Arkansas], the games that we're able to time are coming, the vast majority, under two hours.”
Adams' statement about shortened games goes against conventional sentiment, that the new rules and more whistles are leading to games that often swell beyond two hours. Adams said the NCAA timed all the NIT games back in November and December, most of which were on television, and the average length came to one hour and 54 minutes. It should be noted that the NIT's November bracket of results is a small sample size overall.
The loudest bemoaning most recently sprouted during Tuesday night's Kentucky-Arkansas game, which went to overtime and took two and a half hours to complete. It featured 60 fouls and 81 free throws. As coincidence would have it, Adams was at the game.
"I hope my presence doesn't have any affect on the officials," Adams said when I asked him if he thought his attendance affected the way the crew called the game. "They have much more things to worry about than me sitting 150 feet from the court. I thought the referees in the game, assigned by the SEC, did exactly what they're supposed to do. What happens in games like that … the players on each team fail to adjust to the way the game is being called. At some point, you have to stop fouling. And if you don't, why would you expect the officials to change the way they're calling the game?"
Some believe conference play has led to a regression to the sluggish, physical game that college hoops had morphed into in recent seasons. Adams said there have been instances where fouls that should have been called weren't, but overall that criticism is too broadly painted.
"I don't agree with a blanket statement like that," Adams said. "But there are games that fall into that category, some of that I've seen."
Adams also said the phone calls and reactions from coaches has greatly dipped in the past two weeks compared to the feedback he was getting in November and December. Adams distributed a memo for all officials last Thursday. (The "10-1-4" is the new protocol for whistles against hand-checking.) Verbatim, here are the five points he emphasized to all officials:
1. Very inconsistent enforcement of 10-1-4, especially in the back court.
2. We are letting defenders "show their hands" but foul with the lower body.
3. In games where 10-1-4 is enforced fairly well, that enforcement tends to fade late in close games.
4. Post Play is as rough as I have ever seen it. Not calling the 1st or second foul in these scrums, invariably leads to a "retaliation foul" later in the sequence.
5. There is still way too much illegal contact committed against players without the ball. That was a 2013-14 point of emphasis.
I listened to an announcer last night on ESPN say: "what they (officials) work on and talk about in November and December eventually goes away in January and February and we get back to playing college basketball". Our challenge is to prove him wrong.
Will NCAA tournament assignments be affected by how the refs are (or are not) calling hand-checks and properly judging block/charge situations? To an extent, yes, but it's not the top criterion when Adams considers who will get the most coveted assignments at this year's NCAA tournament. The decision on who gets picked for the field of 68 is ultimately made by the men's basketball committee based on Adams' recommendations.
"How they manage both new rules, as well as bench decorum, the new rules are just one of the ingredients," Adams said. "If you were to disregard them, it would not be likely you'd be in the NCAA tournament, regardless of how long you've been doing it and your national stature."
Adams has four regional advisors (Tommy Nunez, Sr., based in Phoenix; Tynes Hildebrand, in Louisiana; Ted Hillary, in Michigan; and Jack Sweeney, in New York) that work for the NCAA and report to him. They'll see 400-450 officials and almost 500 games collectively, in person, this year and evaluate them for tourney consideration. Each have responsibility for overseeing eight leagues and will contribute to an "exhaustive file” that will be presented to Adams by Feb. 1. Adams himself is constantly traveling. He was at Mississippi State-Alabama on Wednesday, will be at UConn-Memphis on Thursday and at Louisiana Monroe-South Alabama on Saturday.
“I think we're right where we'd thought we'd be in January," Adams said. "The challenge is to hold on right here.”