Saturday, June 24, 2006

Up by 40 Points, Time for the Full Court Press

My son plays summer league basketball and he and the rest of the EO Smith squad enjoy it for what it is - an opportunity to play together, get some exercise, and hopefully hone some skills as a team.

But last night only five players showed up meaning there were no substitutions available. Usually this is a good thing. The fellows who show up get the minutes they each want. And it's a great opportunity to show what you can do.

But last night Windsor's team showed up with ten players, enough to substitute every player so that the player was fresh every five minutes. Again, no big deal.

But by five minutes into the game Windsor pressed EO and by that time the lead was commanding and would do nothing but increase all game long. The final score was a fifty point differential.

By the end of the game I was curious as to the number of fouls each team had committed because Windsor had run the full court press against EO SMith the entire game even after a comfortable and insurmountable lead.

In my book this is unethical and unconscionable and quite frankly I think the coach should be removed. Here's why.

First, this is poor sportsmanship. No sportsman one plays any game to humiliate or to be humiliated. Period.

Secondly, this is a summer league activity. The gym is hot and the league has certain rules that are intended to prevent injuries. For example, you can't dunk. If you do it's a technical foul that awards the other team four points [if memory serves me correctly] and the ball.

Yet, no such rule is applied to overwhelming the other team by sheer numbers and force. This is not the first time I have watched opposing coaches press a full game against another team that is clearly overwhelmed for one reason or another. And I've seen this happen in very young leagues where small town teams play rabid bigger town teams. Often the kids are not natural athletes but that's beside my immediate argument.

My argument is not about the winning or losing because that is truly inconsequential in a pickup game. And a team that's short of players is not inferior to a team rich in bench strength so better and worse are not the issue either.

And EO Smith players are very well conditioned so that is not the issue - they played, took a humiliating loss, and walked away humbled but it didn't kill them so hopefully they got better.

I talked to one of the referees after the game questioning why with such an obvious mismatch they didn't call the game to control the action a bit more - one team's players playing every minute under continuous duress and the other freely substituting everybody every four minutes with the expressed intent of running the undermanned team ragged.

I was told that a.) "This is just summer league, B.) "Don't worry, we wouldn't foul out anyone from your team, C.) "What do you want me to do call the game differently?", and D.) "I can't let what happens on the sidelines effect my calling of the game."

I was put in a logical and ethical bind myself. Point D is true and self-evident. The ref can't weight bad coaching, undermanned teams and over-manned teams into consideration. They can't.

But my answer (after sleeping on it) to Point C is that I do expect referees to call a game differently in certain circumstances. These games are meaningless. Would Windsor have suffered winning by 40, 30, 20 instead of 50 because a referee slowed the game down a bit allowing a five man team a breather occasionally? I doubt it.

Besides, the referee already was using Point A to disarm my protest, "Who cares?" But with Point B, he already admitted that the game was being called "differently". By calling fewer fouls on both teams the five man team HAD to play the full game but the other team was also commiting fouls that were not being called. In reality this exascerbates the plight of the under-manned team. They have to play and they have to play without hope of getting a call to slow the tempo of the game.

And honestly, I listen to NBA games where the announcer says unapologetically, "the referees are taking control of this game early to keep it from getting out of hand". Are the NBA referees out of line? No.

Someday, I'll read that kid collapse on the court because a rogue summer league basketball coach "is just practicing the fast break" for a full game against an overwhelmed team. I'll remember that a player isn't allowed to dunk because he might get hurt but he can be run ragged by misguided coaches in a hot sweaty gym and nobody raises an eyebrow.

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