Mike Casazza: Irony comes with its own whistle in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Curtis Shaw walked into the Charleston Civic Center in 2008 with a whistle and an audience of 12,580. He wore them both out by the end of the Capital Classic.
There were 52 fouls called and five players fouled out in West Virginia's victory against Marshall. A year later, Shaw was back in action and part of the crew that called 54 fouls and fouled out five players in another WVU victory.
So imagine the irony at Wednesday's Big 12 media day at the Sprint Center here when Shaw, the coordinator of officials in the Big 12 Conference, addressed the state of officiating and said, "We have way too many fouls in college basketball."
But he's determined to fix that and with another ironic twist that belies the man who was notoriously labeled "Quick Draw" by those who have seen him sculpt his masterpieces through the years. Officials must practice - prepare yourself - patience.
The NCAA is encouraging more subjective decisions in a profession that is supposed to be objective, yet is everything but that. Officials will now be asked to consider marginal plays and decide if what might be a foul is actually a foul. In short, we're redefining what a foul is.
"A foul is a foul, but contact isn't a foul," Shaw explained. "What the contact causes to occur is a foul."
The only constant in officiating is contact. It happens all the time and it's more inevitable now than ever before. Players are bigger and faster and more athletic and can cover all the dimensions of a court that does not grow. Shooting is increasingly ineffective and players make their baskets, and their highlights, by driving to the basket.
What officials will do now is judge the nature of the contact, as opposed to the existence of contact.
"Is contact a foul or is contact that disrupts a play being able to start and finish a foul?" he said. "That's the difference. We got to appoint where we were blowing the whistle on slight contact and that contact would have nothing to do with the play. We were chopping the game up."
So from here on out, Shaw said contact will be evaluated by how a player's rhythm, speed, balance and quickness is altered. If the contact affects one or all of those and a player is unable to start, develop and finish a play, it's a foul.
"If I'm playing defense and I'm trying to follow my man and cut through and I allow an offensive post player to set a pick and as I come by, he hips me out, I know he's disrupted my rhythm, balance, speed and quickness," Shaw said. "But if the defender can get by and still guard his man, do I need a whistle?"
Shaw's point is that the game could, and now should, continue and not be interrupted just because one player bumped into another.
"Just because there are three players on the floor doesn't mean something happened," he said.
Offensive players are skilled at initiating contact near the basket to draw fouls, but Shaw said to expect fewer and-one plays beginning this season. There will be late whistles on a lot of plays as the officials wait to see if the contact that earns an official's attention will earn the whistle.
"It must not have been much contact if he can go ahead and finish the play," Shaw said. "How many dunks do you see - as long as you don't get hit in the head and you've got a slight swipe across the arm - if the guy can go ahead and power-dunk it, do we really need an and-one on that? That's the type of marginal situation we want to watch."
There are skeptics, as you would imagine, because the game is not as generic as the rule presents it to be. Some Big 12 coaches didn't want to talk about the new emphasis. Some said very generic things. One stonewalled reporter responded to a cliched coach with a lips-are-sealed hand motion, which earned from that coach a chuckle and an "Exactly."
And then there was WVU's Bob Huggins.
"There are so many different ways to play the game that you can't say, 'This is what we're going to do,' because there's going to be far more contact when people run motion or blockers-and-movers than when people run Princeton stuff with a lot of space," he said. "You're not going to be able to evaluate every bit of contact. It's impossible."
But the officials will try and anger coaches, which is where things get really interesting. The officials will also keep their eyes on a coach and his "bench decorum."
"You can react to a play and make your point, but let's go on to the next play," Shaw said. "What we cannot have anymore is the egregious conduct after the play, the continued screaming, yelling and gesturing."
Shedding and tossing a jacket in anger? Technical foul. Dismissive wave of the hand? Technical foul. Jumping up and down, stomping feet, dropping to knees, falling to the floor? All technical fouls.
"I always felt if you hold players to a really high standard, you should hold coaches to a higher standard," Texas Coach Rick Barnes said.
"I've always believed the game should be about the players."
Coaches have a job to do within that game, though, and officials will now judge that very differently according to these new rules.
"If you have a spontaneous reaction, we'll allow it and allow the coach to get under control," Shaw said. "If he doesn't get it under control, you may need to get him under control. 'Coach, the play is over. That's enough. Let's move on.' If the coach continues the same comments, it's a technical foul. We're not taking away a coach's abilities or spontaneity, but it has to be under control."
This, too, is subjective because an official and be patient or emotional and it's up to him how far he wants to take it.
In Morgantown, there's long been a suspicion that some officials don't want to eject coaches because they don't want to fill out the paperwork after the game and would instead prefer to get to the airport as soon as possible. Coaches will have to practice aggression and restraint until they see a result.
"I don't think you'll know what to think about it until you get down the road a little bit," Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger said. "I don't think it's something coaches will think about until one of them gets a 'T' and realizes, 'Maybe I better may a little more attention to this.'"
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.