Aside from making you (probably) light your bracket on fire in a fit of disbelief over all the upsets, the men’s college basketball action over the past few days also cemented this opinion:
The block/charge call, particularly in college basketball, has replaced pass interference in football as the officiating decision that is the most subjective, least understood, most likely to be botched and least likely to make people happy in all of sports.
This opinion was already forming over the first three big days of the tournament, with scrappy defenders playing “help” defense by simply sliding into a spot and hoping they were crashed into by an offensive player (and bailed out by a ref eager to make a dramatic charging call).
It came to a boil in the game between Ohio State and Iowa State. Bear in mind, this author had no rooting interest in this game. If anything, Ohio State winning was favorable because the Buckeyes are the pick to win it all this year. But the charging foul called on Iowa State — with Aaron Craft 1) sliding over late, 2) hovering over the half-circle that dictates a charge not be called and 3) still moving — was an all-time bad call and it cost the Cyclones their best chance at a victory.
John Adams, the NCAA men’s basketball national officiating coordinator, was on CBS after the game and acknowledged that based on Craft’s spot on the court he would not be “in legal guarding position.”
Adams also said it was an “incredibly hard play” to officiate, which is true. The restricted arc near the basket was added before the 2011-12 season as a means to help. Instead, it has only added to the confusion.
Officials are fixated on the arc and often appear not to be watching anything else, such as whether the defender is moving. This leads to more charges being called, which encourages more coaches to teach it as a means of defending. More charges and blocks — instead of legitimate help defense — create more fouls, which slow the game down, take star offensive players out of the game and cheapen the on-court action.
If the botched call on Craft ends up leading to a new way of thinking about the rule, he will be a hero for more than making a last-second shot Sunday.