THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- JUNE 2, 2018
Have you ever noticed that the last few minutes of a basketball game seems to take an hour? An exaggeration, sure, but it feels that way as intentional fouls, multiple time outs, and official reviews sap the drama out of the game. What if there was a different way to end games?
In last week's column I proposed some safe topics for discussion at summer get-togethers. This week, I want to focus on the sports fans at these soirées. In particular, with the NBA finals going on, the NCAA Tournaments completed, and high schoolers thinking about summer workouts, basketball is in the minds of many sports enthusiasts.
So, let's cut to the chase. Think about how games end and how frustrating those endings are to watch. Now consider a unique proposal by a fellow in Indiana named Nick Elam. “A middle school principal, Cincinnati Reds groundskeeper, and Mensa member, Elam watched and catalogued literally thousands of NBA and March Madness games, and found that teams resort to intentional fouling roughly half the time—in this year’s NCAA Tournament alone, teams in 44 of the 70 second halves/overtime periods tried to come back by purposefully fouling. However, in only three of those 44 occasions did the trailing team eventually come back to tie the game or take the lead.”
He has come up with a solution to this which is being called “Elam's Ending.” Here's how it works. “Instead of playing until the clock hits zero, teams will play until the clock hits a different time—four minutes left in a college game, three in pro—and then the clock shuts off. Seven is added to the leading team’s score, and that total becomes the target score—once either team reaches or surpasses that total, the game is over. For example, Team A leads Team B 80-75 at the first deadball with less than four minutes to go in a college game; the target score becomes 87, and the first team to hit it wins.”
In experiments with this ending the results have been clear. “One common thread emerged, no team resorted to intentional fouling to try to come back. And that makes sense: why would a trailing team foul and give their opponents a high-percentage chance to get closer to the target score? They would be better served to play defense and try to stop the opponent from getting any points, while creating scoring opportunities for themselves.” (https://www.si.com/nba/2018/04/26/tbt-basketball-nick-elam-jon-mugar-earl-boykins)https://www.si.com/nba/2018/04/26/tbt-basketball-nick-elam-jon-mugar-earl-boykins)
If you want to see how Elam's ending works in actual games there is a way for you to do this. Beginning June 29, a $2 million winner-take-all tournament will be broadcast on the various ESPN stations. “The Basketball Tournament” is a 72-team challenge that is now in it's fifth year. The teams are made up of great players who are not in the NBA, all-star pick-up teams if you will. The games are 5-on-5, regular basketball. Last year Elam's Ending was in effect for the early play-in games and there is a possibility that usage could be expanded this year. (https://www.thetournament.com)
As a bonus for Michigan fans, one of the teams in this year's tournament is a combination of former U of M players and Ohio State players. I'll bet you never thought something like that would ever happen. (https://www.thetournament.com/news/dakich-gets-michigan-ohio-state-alums-team-tbt-2018)
Now, there are bound to be purists in your discussion group who will argue that basketball is fine as it is and that a change like Elam's Ending will affect the integrity of the game. This can lead to a teaching moment (particularly for the whippersnappers).
Remind them that basketball has evolved over the years. There was a time in the history of the sport when: the ball had laces (like a football), a field goal counted as one point, there was no mid-court line, the three-second area was only six feet wide, dunking was illegal (1967-77 in college), there was no three-point shot, and there was no shot clock. These rules (and others) have historically remade the game. (http://hooptactics.com/Basketball_Basics_History)
All this makes for interesting conversation. “Critics of the Elam Ending have worried that the best element of basketball, the buzzer-beater, would disappear. But Elam maintains that the opposite is true: if the target score is, say, 75, and both teams are locked at 74 or 73, the next made shot would win the game, no matter which team makes the shot.”
This means both teams (not just one team) could win a game with a buzzer-beater. In The Basketball Tournament this summer, that shot could be worth $2 million. You can't get much more exciting than that.