Wiedmer: Help may be on the way for block-charge haters

Wiedmer: Help may be on the way for block-charge haters

March 28th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

It's going to happen. One-thousand-percent certain. At some point in tonight's or Friday night's NCAA Sweet 16 games, an offensive player is going to run into a defensive player and the whistle is going to blow.

The official will either signal a charge (offensive foul) or a block and at that exact moment, cheers and jeers will fill the arena -- and at least a few living rooms -- depending on which team benefits or suffers.

Then, within a few minutes -- especially if it's a charge call -- television analyst Charles Barkley will shake his head and grumble as only Sir Charles can, "That's a turr-ible call. Just turr-ible."

But for those believing the beauty of the game has been hijacked by a block-charge rule that no one can seem to get right, Chattanooga native and Big 12 coordinator of officials Curtis Shaw hopes help is on the way.

"I believe we're going to change the rule to mirror the NBA rule," said Shaw on Wednesday. "In the NBA, the defender has to be set when the offensive player gathers the ball to end his dribble or it's a block.

"That means he must be in position longer. You should never call a charge on a player who's already in the air when the defender sets his feet, but that happens sometimes in the college game because the defender is only supposed to be set before the offensive player leaves his feet. A lot of times, the official sees the airborne player, sees the defender's feet are set and rules it a charge, even though the defender wasn't in position when the offensive player left his feet. Changing to the NBA rule will make a huge difference."

The 52-year-old Shaw made a difference on the floor at the Division I level for 21 years, working several Final Fours along the way. He now supervises officials for not only the Big 12, but also Conference USA, the Ohio Valley and Southland conferences.

And while he expects officials to interpret the block-charge rule better, Shaw also believes a lack of offensive skills in today's players is a contributing factor to the overwhelming number of controversial block-charge calls.

"Ten or 15 years ago we probably didn't have the athletes we have today," said Shaw, who intends to move back to Chattanooga this summer. "But 10 or 15 years ago we had more fundamentally sound players."

"We're not putting near as good a product on the floor right now because too many players can't execute the fundamentals. We're having so many ugly plays [block-charge collisions] at the basket because nobody can pull up short and hit the 4- or 5-footer anymore. Everything's a 3-pointer or at the rim. That's all they know how to do. The game has some issues right now."

Shaw clearly knows how to fix some of those issues from the officiating end. Seven of the 10 officials chosen for last year's Final Four worked under his umbrella. Ten of the remaining 36 officials in this year's tourney work for Shaw and he believes, "There would have been three more if they hadn't been injured."

Perhaps that's why he was inside Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., last weekend to grade officials for NCAA head of officiating John Adams. Perhaps that's also why he's working daily to bring all officials under one organization with one officiating style, rather than the current system, where Big Ten crews officiate one way, Atlantic Coast Conference crews another and Shaw's Big 12 a third.

"We're taking steps in that direction, but we're not that close," he said. "But we are starting to see more conference commissioners say, 'We can't play one way all season, then get to the NCAA and be penalized because it's a different way.' So I hope before I'm finished in this business we can get that done."

The best reason to pull for him to succeed may be to return to how he handled one of the more embarrassing situations in officiating this season -- Kansas's overtime win at Iowa State.

According to Shaw, that Big 12 crew made a number of errors in the final two minutes of that contest and in overtime, including a blown charge call that wrongly allowed KU to shoot two free throws at the buzzer and force overtime, as well as calling a foul on the wrong Jayhawk, which allowed 7-foot center Jeff Withey to continue to play, rather than fouling out in regulation.

"Five glaring mistakes that cost one team a basketball game," said Shaw, who swiftly announced he would discipline the officials. "My position is, 'Don't sugarcoat the obvious.' If you're going to have program of accountability, you have to be truthful. You have to admit mistakes were made, then do everything you can not to let those same mistakes happen again."

As the NCAA Tournament moves forward, that's one call every fan can cheer.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.