NCAA shores up block-charge definition

The biggest rule-related news from the NCAA's Wednesday press release concerned the banishment of slippery sponsor stickers from college basketball courts across the country. This was entirely good news; no longer will players' ligaments be threatened by the strange custom of slapping plastic stickers atop hardwood courts and hoping for the best.

But that wasn't the only rule the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel covered in its committee meetings. In addition to sportsmanship and monitor review rules, PROP also approved guidelines designed to correct an epidemic that plagued college hoops throughout the 2011-12 season: The infamous block-charge call.

Committee members believed "that charge/block calls in some cases were not made correctly, sometimes giving the defense an advantage." Every college hoops fan in the country is currently nodding in agreement. To fix the issue, the rules oversight committee approved the following guidelines "to help better administer these rules." From the release:

  • Before the offensive player (with the ball) becomes airborne, the defender must have two feet on the floor, be facing the opponent and be stationary to draw a charge. Otherwise, it should be a blocking foul.

  • Secondary defenders (help defenders) moving forward or to the side are also in violation and those should be blocking fouls.

  • Contact that is “through the chest” is not de facto proof of a charge. The rule in its entirety must be considered before determining a foul.

  • In some cases, it appears a defender is being rewarded solely for being outside the arc, without considering the other aspects of the rules.

Yes, yes, yes and yes. These guidelines are all spot on.

For years, the block-charge call in college hoops had seemed to inherently favor the defensive player, which is one reason the NCAA installed the NBA-tested charge semicircle in the first place. But that solution actually made the problem worse: Instead of examining each instance of contact on its own merits, officials seemed to focus more -- and sometimes entirely -- on whether the defensive player had planted his feet outside the restricted area. If so, charge. If not, block.

Unfortunately for the officials, such a difficult call can never be that simple. Which is why, as I wrote in our first Change the Game piece of the season, I believe a more radical block-charge paradigm is needed. I'm still not entirely sure why defenders should be so incentivized to draw charges in the first place. I'd rather see a rule change that forced defenders to make actual plays on the ball, without fouling, and I'd like to see referees work under the assumption that not all contact necessitates a foul, instead of the other way around.

Of course, that is never going to happen. The rules of basketball are mostly universal, and block-charge calls are a fixture of the game at all levels. As such, we're stuck with non-radical tweaks. And as far as such tweaks go, the NCAA's approval of the basketball committee's recommended guidelines counts as at least a minor step in the right direction.

The block-charge will never be easy to call. It will only rarely be as clear cut as anyone would like. But if the NCAA's new guidelines take some of the recent inherent advantage away from the defense -- and encourage officials to balance the nature of the play -- well, it's hard to complain too much about that.