The general principles of basketball haven’t changed in a long time, but the NBA is always tinkering with the rules to try and make the game better and more enjoyable for everyone involved. This offseason is no exception, as the Board of Governors will meet later this month to vote on a number of proposals.
Perhaps most notably, at least in terms of rule changes, they are planning to make coach’s challenges the only form of out-of-bounds reviews in the final two minutes, according to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic. After many years of increased video reviews, this would be a significant shift in the opposite direction.
Under the current rules, any close out-of-bounds decision in the final two minutes of a game can be reviewed by the referees if they aren’t sure of the call, or just want to take a second look. The idea makes sense in theory, because you don’t want a game, especially in the playoffs, to be decided because of a mistake by the refs.
But in practice, it’s meant that almost every single out of bounds call in the final two minutes ends up getting reviewed. It was supposed to be a fail safe, but has instead often turned into the primary method for determining out-of-bounds decisions. The problem is exacerbated in the playoffs, when star players know they can demand reviews and referees are always going to give themselves a chance to make sure they got the call right.
On a good number of occasions, the refs make their way to the monitor just to see that the call they made was obviously correct. Add in the calls that they still can’t determine after staring at every possible angle and freeze frame for multiple minutes, and you have a lot of wasted time.
With games already running longer than ever due to extended television timeouts, and the attention span of society at large shrinking with every year, those unnecessary delays were turning into a big problem for the league. Take the Phoenix Suns‘ thrilling victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, for example. The fourth quarter alone, which was plagued by a stream of reviews towards the end, took a staggering 57 minutes.
Basketball at its best is a free-flowing, back-and-forth affair with as few stoppages as possible. The NBA is a high-stakes operation that for competitive and financial reasons needs to ensure that games are decided fairly. In their attempts at correctness, the league drifted too far towards the latter and took away from the spirit and drama of the game in the process.
Moving forward with these rules changes, NBA games might not always be perfect, but they will be more enjoyable.