The defender might be a foot taller and 75 pounds heavier. Yet, contact with the smaller player sends him flying backward. When the referee calls charging, even a casual basketball fan senses injustice.
The illogic of these kiddie car-demolishes-pickup truck collisions moved Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to take action. He commissioned a scientific study of basketball's all-too-common lapse into kabuki theatre: the offensive foul. Cuban, an unabashed critic of NBA officiating, had his company, Radical Hoops Ltd, donate $100,000 to Southern Methodist University to study the physics involved in these collisions, it was announced last week.
Peter Weyand, an associate professor of applied physiology and biomechanics at SMU, will lead what's being billed as an 18-month investigation into mass, force and acceleration in baggy shorts. Sir Isaac Newton meets C.M. Newton.
Weyand and his team will try to determine how much force is required to "legitimately" knock a defender off his feet. They also hope to develop a metric to determine if such a force existed in any particular block/charge incident. In theory, a video review using this metric would lead to punishment for flopping.
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Meanwhile, referees roll their eyes.
"Basketball officiating is an art," said John Hampton, Kentucky native and Southeastern Conference official. "It is not a science. I am extremely skeptical of the whole project."
Hampton noted how the block/charge call involves judgment, not a simple application of a set of facts. A charge in one instance might be seen as a block in another. A defender might exaggerate his backward fall, but the offensive player led with a lowered shoulder. "Very subjective," Hampton said.
John Clougherty, a long-time SEC referee who now supervises officials in the Atlantic Coast Conference, sounded unsure how to react to the upcoming study at SMU.
"You know, my first thought is it's so bizarre that I really don't know what to think about it," he said.
Weyand, who played basketball in high school and at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine), acknowledged that officiating is more art than science.
"It's a point well taken," he said of referees' skepticism.
Yet, Weyand suggested that a scientific study can yield surprising benefits.
"It's largely uncharted territory," he said in a telephone interview last week. " ... Any time you take on a scientific study, by definition you investigate a question you don't know the answer to. So if you don't know what's behind that closed door, you have no idea once you open it where it might lead."
There has been a lot of research into balance and falls in the elderly, but relatively little on healthy adults and athletes, he said.
At this early stage, Weyand and his team are seeking approval to use human subjects. He said they have NBA-sized volunteers. They will stage collisions and measure the forces applied. Say, a defender reacted as if 100 pounds of force was applied, but it was determined to be only 10. The NBA would have data to indicate a flop.
Weyand's team will deliver the results of their study to Cuban.
For now, it is the middle of June, when gyms sit quiet and minds daydream of breezy beaches. Yet a telephone call last week found Clougherty in his ACC office reviewing tape of calls. In 96 ACC games last season, there had been 196 block/charge calls. Clougherty had reviewed 46 of the calls. He said a high percentage had been called correctly. Generally, officiating mistakes in block/charge situations come on non-calls, he said.
No doubt Kentucky Coach John Calipari would have liked to hear Clougherty say, "The NCAA thinks far too many charges are called where defenders are moving." Calipari does.
But will the SMU study lead to less flopping? Clougherty saw the possible benefits as more applicable to the NBA than college. On either level, the game is too fast for a decision in real time. A video review and, say, subsequent fine for flopping makes more sense for professional players.
"If you decide it's a flop, do you punish players?" Clougherty said of college basketball. "You can't fine players. It opens up a whole bag of uncertainty. What do you do with the results?"
To Jake Bell, who was named supervisor of officials by the SEC last week. He replaces Gerald Boudreaux.
A native of Sturgis, Ky. (Union County), Bell has long been an athletic fixture in Central Kentucky. He played tight end for the Georgetown College football team. His 25 years as Henry Clay High School's football coach included an unbeaten season and state title in 1981.
He also noted how he became head coach the second year after Henry Clay integrated in 1968. "It was almost Remember the Titans," he said. "It was great to see the right thing happen. The older I get, the more I'm appreciative of being there."
Bell worked as a referee in the SEC for 15 seasons before retiring in the early 1990s. He's been supervisor of officials for the Atlantic Sun conference in recent years.
When asked about the challenge of officiating, Bell noted how instant replay, television coverage and Internet connections have revolutionized the job.
"Technology will expose you," he said. "The toughest thing is you have to be good and you have to get (calls) right."
As supervisor of officials, Bell's duties will include assigning referees to games, organizing training camps for refs and identifying up-and-coming referees. He also must work to retain quality referees. That last thing may have hurt Boudreaux, since the SEC lost veteran referees like Tom Eades, Mike Stuart, Gary Maxwell and Bert Smith in recent years. Efforts to reach the SEC were not successful.
Bell will also field complaints from coaches. "You're servicing clients," he said of the officials' relationship with coaches. "You want to treat them with respect."
Bell hopes to continue as supervisor of officials for the Atlantic Sun. While that might seem like a possible conflict, he noted that it's not unusual to supervise officials in more than one league. For instance, John Clougherty is supervisor of two leagues: Colonial and ACC. To work more than one league allows a supervisor to assign more games to his referees and gives him more referees to evaluate.
Upon taking the SEC job, Bell received congratulatory messages from all Atlantic Sun coaches. SEC coaches? Well, they're busy this time of year, he said.
As for any question regarding Lexington being home to the SEC's flagship program (Kentucky) and the league's supervisor of officials, Bell said, "They hired Jake Bell. I'm still going to be Jake Bell. When I'm out of the position, I'll still be Jake Bell. Your integrity and core values must really shine through."
No more domes?
For those who find basketball and domed stadiums incompatible, good news arrived last week. A blog posted by Andy Katz of ESPN said that the NCAA would not play regional semifinals and finals in domes in the future. In the past, such games could be played in domes as trial runs for future Final Four sites.
Since all possible dome sites for future Final Fours have been tested, there no longer will be a need to place regionals in such stadiums.
Mark Lewis, the NCAA's vice president in charge of championships, could not be reached for comment. But spokesperson Stacey Osburn said the NCAA has not totally ruled out using domes in future regionals.
"We are not discontinuing the use of domes for regional games," she wrote in an email. "All bids will be treated equally so the (tournament) committee may look at a variety of options."
The next three Final Fours will be in domes: Cowboys Stadium in 2014, Indianapolis in 2015 and Houston in 2016.
Andy Glockner of SI.com cited three entities that will benefit from moving regionals out of domes:
■ Scalpers. Fewer available tickets means larger amounts of money exchanging hands.
■ The Carrier Dome. As an on-campus site, Syracuse's home court blurs the line between arenas and stadiums, thus most likely to continue as a site for regionals.
■ NCAA bean counters. There are only a relative few domed stadiums. More arenas as potential region sites means more competitive bids.
Fantasy Camp II
If basketball sparks your inner Walter Mitty, you have options.
Of course, John Calipari will stage his second annual Fantasy Camp Sept. 7-9. You get to breathe the same air as the Cats. You get to walk in their footsteps. This year's entry fee is $6,995.
News of another basketball-themed fantasy camp came last week. Billed as a chance to give you the experience of being a member of the national team, it's the inaugural USA Basketball Fantasy Camp July 23-25 in Las Vegas.
Participants receive hands-on instruction from such high-profile coaches as Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Florida's Billy Donovan, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Miami's Jim Larrañaga, Grand Canyon's Dan Majerle, Washington's Lorenzo Romar, Villanova's Jay Wright, camp director P.J. Carlesimo and Calipari.
As part of the fantasy experience, participants can watch a session of the private annual USA Basketball National Team training camp for elite NBA players being considered for future international competitions. Among those players are ex-UK stars DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and John Wall.
The culmination of the three days will be the camp's championship game and medal ceremony held as part of the USA Basketball Showcase in front of a crowd at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center.
As with Calipari's production, participants in the USA Basketball Fantasy Camp must be 35 years or older. Rooms, meals and ground transportation will be provided as part of the $7,500 entry fee.
For more information, visit www.USABFantasyCamp.com or contact Matt Chacksfield at (513) 745-5850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former Miami University (Ohio) coach Charlie Coles died June 7. Twice he brought Miami teams to UK. Each time his teams played competitively. As Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin noted at the funeral service, Coles would win the post-game press conference if not the game.
As noted in The New York Times obit, Coles had a history of heart problems. He suffered a heart attack during a game in the 1998 Mid-American Conference Tournament. He was rushed to a hospital, where doctors inserted a tube in his throat to help him breathe.
Coles then asked for a piece of paper and wrote, "Who won?"
Coles often put his well-known wit on display. Once in an interview with the Detroit Free Press, he said a woman approached him at a church service about a month after his courtside collapse and said she, too, had survived a heart attack.
"Before they brought me back, there were angels all around me," she told Coles.
To which, Coles replied, " 'Ma'am, I'm going to start living better, because where I was, there wasn't no angels.'"
Assault and Battier
At the end of his syndicated column last week, Norman Chad answered a question from a reader:
Michael York of Albany, N.Y., asked, "On Twitter, you love to bash Shane Battier. Why? Are you offended he can make a three-point shot, set tough screens and play smart defense?"
To which Chad replied, "I once saw Shane Battier draw a charge during a funeral procession."
To Joe Crawford. He turns 27 on Monday. ... To Gimel Martinez. He turned 42 on Friday. ... To Tim Stephens. He turns 55 Sunday.