Archive for November, 2009

Eagan cancer case a no-win situation

Friday, November 20th, 2009

A month ago, Twin Cities television station KARE-11 aired a story about a seventh-grade boys’ basketball player from Eagan (MN) who was cut from his “C” traveling basketball team. He wasn’t the only kid cut at that level, but he was the only one who was recovering from cancer. The player couldn’t try out this year because he had casts on both legs, a byproduct of his illness. If I recall correctly, the policy of the Eagan Athletic Association is that if a player can’t try out, they go back to his performance from the previous season.  In this case, it was a season the player didn’t feel well and probably didn’t play well because he was battling cancer.

After the television story aired, the Eagan Athletic Association was flooded with angry e-mails and also a couple of offers for the player to join similar teams on neighboring communities.

There was a case in which Eagan could not win. Obviously, the association followed its policies. What about the other kids who were cut? Maybe they had extenuating circumstances that wouldn’t allow them to try out. On the other side of the argument is a call for compassion and common sense. Some call for compassion. Others call it preferential treatment. A no-win situation. 

The bigger question lurking is should you cut anyone at the “C” level? Some people don’t think so. I don’t think you can give a blanket answer one way or another without knowing all the circumstances and the number of players on the teams.

Sometimes, you just have to cut. If a player doesn’t make a traveling team, they most likely can play in an in-house program. That could motivate the player to work harder to try to make the team the following year.

I’m just glad the young man got the opportunity to play on a team this year. Clearly basketball is important to him. And in the big picture, life in more important than sport. But if sport helps one live his  life in the face of cancer, then sport is a good thing.

Here is a link to the KARE-11 story. 




Bill Belichick absolutely made the…

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

If you read the BasketCases blog, you know I write about basketball, officiating and sportsmanship issues. This week, I am throwing a curve ball and writing about football.

A disclaimer: I have been a New England Patriots fan since December 1982 when the Pats beat Miami 3-0 during a blizzard in Foxborough in which a prisoner on work-release drove a snowplow onto the field on his own volition. He cleared a path, allowing Pats’ left-footed placekicker John Smith to kick a fourth-quarter field goal. I was 12 at the time and remember Brent Musburger on the CBS Post-Game Show saying “You are not going to believe what is going on in New England. It’s been snowing in Foxborough all day…”

Needless to say, I was glued to my TV Sunday night as the Pats played the Colts in a classic game in which the Colts won 35-34. As everyone who watches football knows by now, the Patriots faced a 4th and 1 1/2 with just over two minutes to go at their own 28 1/2 yard line. Patriots coach Bill Belichick elected to go for the first down instead of punting the ball with a six-point lead and giving the ball back to Peyton Manning with two minutes and one time-out remaining.

Let me summarize my position in seven words: Bill Belichick absolutely made the RIGHT CALL! I loved that call and if the exact same situation presented itself again, they should do it again. I know I am in the minority on this, but let me explain.

When that Pats went a little conservative after a Manning pick (instead of going for the jugular) and kicking a field goal to go up 13 points with about five minutes left to play, I expected two outcomes. Indy would score a touchdown before the two-minute warning, forcing New England to pick up a first down to win the game. Otherwise, if Indy got the ball back they would score again and win 35-34.

As expected, Manning marched right down the field and scored a touchdown with 2:23 left to play. Scoring in front of the two-minute warning proved to be huge. When New England got the ball back, they inexcusably called its second time-out before their first down play. Following the time-out, they ran the ball for no gain (hated the play call, especially after wasting a time-out,  I think you try for a safe pass to get five to seven yards there.) 

On second down, Pats quarterback Tom Brady threw a pass to Wes Welker, which picked up about eight yards, leaving third and a short two. At that time, I told my wife that New England should consider this four-down territory and potentially run on third (and fourth down, if necessary) to pick up less than two yards. On third down, Brady got blitzed and almost threw a pick, leaving fourth down and less than two yards to go.

Before fourth down, Belichick called his final time-out to make sure everything was in place to try and win the game. If New England would have picked up that first down, they probably would have punted to Indianapolis with about 25 seconds left in the game. Even the great Peyton Manning wouldn’t have scored a touchdown in that situation.

Here is why going for it on fourth down and short was the Right Call:

* First of all, not only do I think he made the right call, but I think it worked. The ball may not have been spotted correctly. Replays clearly show that Kevin Faulk started to catch the ball at the 30 1/2 yard line. He bobbled it once and established control with his left hand directly over the 30 yard line before he was pushed back by the Colts’ defender. The line judge immediately came out with a “juggling” signal and spotted the play short of the 30. The officials didn’t even have to measure because the kickoff was a touchback. That meant the Pats started at the 20 and needed to reach the 30 yard line for a first down. I’m not a football official and I have never read an football rulebook, but I would think that once you establish possession after the bobble (which Faulk clearly did at the 30 on replay), then you should be given that forward progress (if not, the ball was spotted correctly and this point is moot). In defense of the officials, the line judge had the almost impossible task of trying to see through the players to truly see when the bobble ended. Unfortunately for New England, the play started before the two-minute warning. That means Belichick couldn’t challenge the play because he was out of time-outs. If it was the first play after the two-minute warning, there would have been a booth review. It would have been interesting to see if referee Scott Green would have had enough “evidence” to give the Pats the first down. We will never know. One way to avoid all this is to have Faulk run his route a yard deeper. That would have eliminated the potential human error in spotting the football.

* I loved the call because Belichick went for the win. In the NFL, we see almost all head coaches (Brad Childress and Mike Singletary specifically come to mind) playing NOT TO LOSE. If the Pats pick up the first down, they win the game.

* You have to understand the situation. If you give the ball back to Peyton Manning with two minutes and a time-out left, he would have marched the Colts right down the field and scored a game-winning touchdown, I’m sure of it. Could there have been a tipped pass or a crucial drop? Of course, but the odds were overwhelmingly in Manning’s favor, especially after two quick, successful 79-yard drives in the fourth quarter already. He had plenty of time to execute. New England’s defense was gassed (and their D-line depleted). The reason teams don’t rally in that situation is, either they get pressured and/or sacked or because their quarterback just isn’t that good. This is a sitaution in which no one in the league is better than Peyton Manning and New England had no chance of putting any pressure on him. 

* Peyton Manning is the only quarterback in the league that you respect so much that you don’t want him to get the ball back. You punt to every other quarterback there. Also, I think you punt if New England only leads by three and hope the Colts play conservative and become satisfied with a field goal to send it into overtime.

* A history lesson. This game was eerily similar to the AFC championship game three years ago in which the Pats had a huge lead before losing it. The Pats led by four with two minutes to play. It was third down and 5. Brady and Troy Brown miscommunicated on an option route. If the Pats picked up the first down, they would have gone to the Super Bowl as the Colts were out of time-outs. They punted the ball near mid-field and Manning dissected the Pats for the winning touchdown. I’m sure Belichick stewed all off-season that he should have gambled to try and win the game on fourth down there instead of playing not to lose.

* The Pats defense just isn’t that good. Not only were the Pats depleted and tired, their defense is made up of a lot of good players, but only one great player (nose guard Vince Wilfork, who is a beast, but primarily at stopping the run). They no longer have studs like Vrabel, Harrison, Bruschi, McGinnest, Law, Samuel, etc. to make a play to win the game. The defense played great to force the Colts to punt seven times, but you can only hold off Manning for so long.

* Belichick has successfully gone for it before on fourth and short in his own territory against the Colts. In one the AFC championship games against the Colts in Foxborough (I think it was the 21-3 victory), the Pats faced fourth and less than a yard on their opening drive. Belichick went for it. The Pats picked up a first down and went on to score a touchdown on that drive to set the tempo for the day. The beauty of that play was the Pats didn’t waste a time-out, lined up in a tight formation and then spread everyone out in a four- or five-receiver set, before Brady successfully executed a quarterback sneak for the first down (clearly, the Pats were prepared for that play). New England also went for it on 4th and 1 at its own 24 (in the third quarter) earlier this year against Atlanta. That was successful and led to a field goal in New England’s 26-10 victory.

All I know is most of America think Belichick screwed up and lost the game for the Pats. He says that call gave his team the best opportunity to win the game. I totally agree. Put the ball in Tom Brady’s hands and go for the win — even in your own territory. Bill Belichick absolutely made the Right Call.

And for those thinking I am drinking the Patriots kool-aid, I would have felt the same way if Norv Turner made the same call.

Gender-specific Rule Books in high school? Oh really…

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

A few weeks ago, all registered high school basketball officials in Minnesota received a packet in the mail that included the new Rule Books. Most of the rules stay the same year to year, but there are some tweaks, usually in the areas of legal jerseys, headbands and other “fashion” items we are expected to police. The rules that govern high school basketball in this country (and youth basketball) follow the rules established by the National Federation of High School Associations.

Of the two 2009-10 “Rule Books” in my packet, one has a purple cover, and the other is green. Can you guess which color is the boys’ Rule Book and which one is the girls Rule Book? Green? Purple? Give up?

Trick question. There is only one Rule Book (technically called a “Rules Book”) - and it boasts a purple cover by the way. The other Rule Book I was referring to (with the green cover) is this year’s Case Book.

What’s the difference? The Rule Book is just that, a specific list of rules on 72 pages that no one outside the NFHS editor can truly grasp every nuance. It’s boring, mundane reading that most parents, many coaches and too high of a percentage of youth basketball officials never have and never will read. The Case Book is way more interesting because it is filled with specific situations, such as “traveling or not” and the rule the justifies the example.

When I wrote BasketCases, my publisher sought and received permission from the NFHS to use specific examples from the current rule book and case book at the time (2007) to verify and document key rules and how officials apply them. Section IV of my book is entitled “Six Rules Every BasketCase Must Understand and Memorize.” It was important that I devoted a small section to six key rules – traveling, “over the back,” illegral dribble, over-and-back, block/charge and three seconds in the lane — which are routinely misunderstood. For example, the reason “over the back” has quote marks around it is because there is no such rule even though moms, dads and coaches in gyms in every city in this country scream for it and plenty of officials erroneously use the wrong terminology to call a foul. For each of those rules mentioned above, I divide the chapter in four sections: What the Rule Book says, What the Case Book says, The Whistleblower Reality and What BasketCases Need to Know.

If every youth basketball parent, coach and official read just those 20 pages, the drug companies would have far less consumers in need of their high blood pressure medicine. It could serve as a catalyst for health care reform.

Let me share a recent encounter with a youth basketball coach during a fall league game. Near the end of the first half, a player made an “up-and-under” move and scored a basket. The opposing coach thought it was a traveling violation. I didn’t think so and neither did my partner. That coach and I had a lengthy discussion at halftime about the play.

He claimed that the opposing player took two steps. I explained that it doesn’t matter how many steps he took. What matters is: Did the player’s pivot foot return to the floor before a shot or a pass? I tried to explain that a player can lift his or her pivot foot as long as that player shoots or passes the ball before returning it to the floor. (This is mentioned in Chapter 15: “Travelng” on page 68 of BasketCases, along with the specific rule I am referring to: 4-44-3a).

The coach didn’t want to — or choose not to – listen to my explanation. I told him that Janel McCarville became an All-American at the University of Minnesota on that move, which riled him up something fierce. He argued that this wasn’t girls’ basketball, my example proved his point and I was dead wrong, and loudly told me to ask my partner or anyone in the gym that there is a separate rule book for girls basketball (which must have gotten lost in the mail for 12 consecutive years). I should have used Kevin McHale as an example instead! As I mentioned already, there is only one rule book for high school basketball. In college, there are different rule books for men’s and women’s basketball, but that vast majority of those rules are the same, with a few noteworthy exceptions (e.g., no 10-second count in the backcourt for college women, 30-second shot clock (35 for men), etc.). The traveling rule the coach was complaining about is the same in high school and college.

I love it when a coach who obviously has never opened a rule book claims there are two rule books! Just part of the ongoing fun basketball officials deal with every weekend. By the way, Rule 1, Section 12, Articles D and E specify the different sizes and weight for high school boys and girls competition, the only difference between girls and boys basketball that I am aware of. And if you really want to know, Article C states that the ball..shall have a deeply pebbled cover with horizontally shaped panels bonded tightly to a rubber carcass.

Good stuff. Trust me, BasketCases is way more entertaining and enlightening. Someone get this coach a copy for Christmas.