The Final Whistle – One Simple Rule (Change)

Ever stopped and thought about how many times you hear the word “if” each day?

What if – If you – If we – If this – If that …. and the list goes on. 
I’ve got one for you;
If you could change one rule in basketball, what would it be?
No doubt just by the nature of the question the list of answers would be many, but perhaps stop and just consider the question a little deeper. If you could change one rule, not two or three, just one, what would it be?
What’s the one rule that if changed would make our game better, in your opinion?
Before I put my one rule change on the table, let me preface it by saying basketball today is far different to basketball three, two, even one decade ago. Players are faster, more athletic and more skilled (overall), most of which stems from more regular and better training methods, better levels of athlete management and assistance via training aids, rehabilitation methods, sports science, nutrition, and so on.
The increase in our knowledge of how to prepare athletes, not to mention the tools available to them to perform at an optimum level for longer isn’t lost on anyone, in any sport.
So, in answering the question I have posed, I’d ask you to think a bit harder than changing an interpretation of a rule, rather focus on a fundamental change of a rule that will be better for the game across multiple areas, and at all levels.
For me, I have one rule change at the top of the list by a long way, and it’s actually not that far fetched given other competitions elsewhere around the world currently have this rule in place.
If I was waving the magic wand in basketball the one rule change that would be immediately invoked is moving from five personal fouls to six. For me it’s a no brainer.
The game in speed, physicality, ability and difficulty to adjudicate has moved past five personal fouls. A 20 per cent increase in the allowance of player error and referee decision (interpretation) is needed to bring the game up to the level it is now played at.
Now, the first thing people will jump to is that the NBA has six personal fouls but the game is played over 48 minutes. Interestingly, during a recent trip to the United States I met with one of the NBA teams and they flagged that a hot topic of discussion amongst league heavyweights right now is whether or not the NBA should revert to a 40-minute game. If that happens, and there’s the use of the word “if” once again, I highly doubt you will see a reduction in personal fouls to match.
The player foul limit in the WNBA is already six, and that’s over a 40-minute game schedule. My one rule change isn’t ground-breaking, it happens elsewhere in other leagues right now.
Why would we change this rule? What are the benefits?
I think there a number of extremely positive factors behind it, some of which many may not have been considered, but I have narrowed it to three reasons in particular.
1) Simply, we should all want to keep players in the game longer, especially the star players. You can give away 20 free kicks via contact in a game of AFL and while the coach may not be overly happy, the fact is the player can continue to play. I’m not saying we change the team foul count, which leads to providing an opposition team with a chance to score points due to indiscretions. People attend games to see players play. At junior level we want our kids to learn from mistakes and this will give them a little more room to breath. At all levels this will ease the angst that comes with the negative ‘threat’ that a foul lands you one step closer to sitting out from what you are there to do – which is play the game.
2) The game is faster, stronger and more athletic than ever before and with that comes increased difficulty in adjudicating on a consistent basis. The pressure to play, coach and referee to a level of consistent interpretation when it comes to personal fouls is easily one of the greatest frustrations the game is suffering from. We need to look at ways we can better adjudicate a contest that is advancing due to the ability of those playing. To my mind there isn’t a sport in the world that isn’t more athletic than what it was when the rules for that sport were first drafted. 
3) Ease the pressure on the referees. Like players and coaches, referees make errors. We are asking our officials to interpret contact in a split second, some of which is easy to adjudicate and some of which is extremely hard. Mistakes happen. By adding a sixth personal foul we are helping ease the tension and frustration being shown by players and coaches. The game is quicker, more physical and harder to adjudicate. Just like we need to keep players on the court, we need to keep referees in the game and this one change will ease the angst that comes with a foul being called.
Most of all, being called for a foul is frustrating. It isn’t a positive thing, it’s a negative and I think it is fair to suggest that the biggest pressure points in games for all involved is when a player is deemed to have committed a foul. We need to accommodate for errors, particularly when inconsistency can be a factor. We need players playing.
The game is so quick these days, players are learning their skills in more advanced ways and are able to do more on the court in the thick of the action. This isn’t new, athlete advancements are happening in all sports and as a result the rule-makers need to stop attaching themselves to yesteryear and thinking rules are sacrosanct. They’re not.
What we need is for the rules to keep up with the other advancements being made and for me a tweak to the personal foul count will help our game in many ways.
The Final Whistle has blown!
The Final Whistle is an opinionated column written by staff writer Justin Nelson. All views in this article are expressed by the author and may not be those of the Big V.
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