In 2013-14, college basketball legislated the charging foul out of style.
One season was enough of that, the rule-makers decided. Drivers to the basket beware, because defenders are waiting and the balance tipped in their favor.
“My first year, it was regular, how we grew up playing,” WSU junior guard Fred VanVleet said. “Last year, it was hard to get a charge at all. This year, it’s like they’re trying to make up for it. We’re just trying to find the right zone … and find out how we can avoid those things.”
This season, the block-charge call returned to something close to its previous form, an alteration to the rule in the words of the NCAA. The defender must be in legal guarding position before the offensive player jumps to pass or shoot. Last season, the defender needed to be in position before the opponent began an upward motion with the ball.
The NCAA rules committee decided judging “upward motion” was too difficult for officials. It resulted in confusion and too many blocking calls. Coaches felt as if a defender needed to be in position long enough to take root to get a charging call.
So if you think the lane is clogged with bodies this season, you might be correct. The rewards for hustling into position and taking a hit are growing.
“If it was close, the default last year was to call a block,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “This year, it’s gone back and now it appears the default is, if it’s close, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be called a charge.”
Last season’s change was part of a move by the NCAA to reduce physical play on defense and give offensive players more freedom of movement. Last spring, many coaches and officials agreed the change didn’t work. Belmont coach Rick Byrd, chairman of the men’s basketball rules committee, told Sports Illustrated that referees considered the call nearly impossible to teach and make properly.
“The reason for that was just the difficulty … in determining when the upward motion actually begins because different players have all kinds of different actions,” Byrd told Sports Illustrated. “It just was very difficult for an official, and a defender for that matter, to know. The great part about when he leaves the floor, it's really the only definitive act, the only definitive instance an official can determine. And the upward motion was subjective.”
Loyola coach Porter Moser sees the change restoring balance to the offense-defense battle in the lane.
“It was getting out of hand where guys were just flying in their out of control, trying to get contact and get to that foul line,” he said. “Now you’re getting back to the fundamentals of rotating and getting your feet planted before he takes off. You’re rewarding rotation, instead of rewarding a guy just flying in there out of control.”
If that play is no longer profitable for the offense, the offense must adjust.
“You’ve got to pick your spots,” VanVleet said. “I think we’ve done a decent job of it. I still want to get our team to the free-throw line a lot, so I’m staying in attack mode.”
Neither VanVleet nor WSU guard Ron Baker see the lane as a place too crowded to venture. It is up to the Shockers to find ways, in part by spacing the floor more effectively with players wider or above the foul line to draw defenders away from the basket.
“It depends who we’re playing, who we’ve got in the game and how they’re playing us,” Baker said.
Jacobson expects the calls to even out as the season progresses. The lane might be a friendlier place to go in a week or two, as officials grow more confident with the change.
“We have tremendous officials in our league,” he said. “The officials are getting closer to being able to call the game the way they see it, and not as much in terms of the way they’re being told to make that call. They need to be able to call that play the way they see it, because it is, I think, the hardest call in basketball.”
Kennedy honors — Mike Kennedy, Shocker men’s basketball, volleyball and baseball radio voice, was named Kansas Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportcasters and Sportswriters Association.
Kennedy began calling WSU athletics for KAKE-TV in 1976 and became the full-time play-by-play voice for men’s basketball in 1980. He later added baseball and volleyball to his duties.
Check the weather — Eck Stadium’s turf is covered with snow. Inside coach Todd Butler’s office, the season is rolling. Once Christmas passes, his mind hits another gear and he is constantly making notes for practice plans.
The Shockers report Wednesday for a team meeting. Individual workouts begin Thursday. Practices start on Jan. 23.
“We had a 3.02 grade-point average in the first semester,” Butler said. “We had some 4.0 students and a lot of guys over 3.5. The guys did a good job in the classroom. Everyone seems to be in good shape. Everyone seems to be very eager to get back.”
Butler is optimistic that sophomore pitcher Sam Tewes will be ready to throw after a strained elbow ended his summer early and limited his work during the fall. Tewes is WSU’s lone returning starter and he went 8-3 with a 3.27 ERA last season. Junior catcher Ryan Tinkham underwent shoulder surgery in June and didn’t throw until November. Infielder Trey Vickers (back) and pitcher Brad Kinsey (elbow), both freshmen, were cleared to practice last week. Vickers most most of the fall and Kinsey did not pitch during fall practices.
“Tinkham has been playing catch in California,” Butler said. “It sounds very good.”
Senior pitcher T.J. Looney is academically ineligible. Pitcher Austin Bright transferred to Arizona Christian and outfielder Jerrik Sigg transferred to Tabor.
WSU opens the season at Sam Houston State on Feb. 13.
▪ The First Pitch Banquet is at 6 p.m. Jan. 29 at Koch Arena.
Author and motivational speaker Rod Olson will talk. He wrote “The Legacy Builder,” a leadership book Butler often has his players read.
Tickets are $125. Table sponsorships are $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000. For information call (316) 978-3636.
Worth noting — WSU men’s tennis player Tin Ostojic starts the season ranked No. 114 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s singles. Ostojic and Tomislav Gregurovic are No. 17 in the doubles ranking. WSU opens the season on Friday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in Tulsa. The WSU women play Louisiana Tech at 1 p.m. Friday at the Wichita Country Club … WSU’s track and field teams continue the indoor season with the Shocker Prelude on Friday at the Heskett Center.