Needed rule changes overshadowed by needless ones

There are moments in my life as a sports fan when I thoroughly believe the men and women who dictate rules for sports have never paid an admission fee, sat down, bought some popcorn and watched a game.

Such an idea recently came to mind while watching the replay of a Jan. 6 basketball game between South Kitsap and Bellarmine Prep, an entertaining contest that saw the home team fight to keep things close down the stretch.

Down by five with 10.2 seconds left, SK senior Kenny Miller took the inbound pass and- not even setting his feet- proceeded to release an incredible three-point shot that rolled into the net. It was a thrilling moment that ignited hope within those in the Port Orchard crowd. You could feel the tension as the Lions walked to pick up and inbound the ball with the Wolves only needing a steal and shot or a quick foul to stay in it and…wait, the game is over?

Yep, that’s right. So much for tension.

Miller’s shot would have stopped the clock with somewhere between 5 and 5.8 seconds left. However, no such rule about automatic stoppages of the game clock in late-game scenarios existed for the Wolves to rely on, and a timeout-less SK was left to watch helplessly as the final seconds ticked off.

Fans left confused, and players shook their heads in defeat. It was deflating, empty and not how a game should end.

Since watching that contest, I’ve wondered why—since college and pro basketball stop the clock after shots are made in late-game scenarios—high schools do not do the same thing. So many game-winning scenarios go out the window if such a rule did not exist. Should such moments only apply to a certain skill or grade level? I think not, especially when the game has developed in high schools as much as it has in the past decade.

So why has no change been made yet? Unfortunately, those who make the rules for high school athletics have shown more interest in meddling with aspects of the game that didn’t need to be changed.

Take for instance the latest round of rule changes for this season decided on by the National Federation of High Schools, the same organization that sat on its hands for years on having a shot clock.

The change I’m talking about— announced last May and implemented in Washington’s high schools this season—completely threw out one-and-one free throws and reset team fouls at the end of each quarter instead of each half. Teams would shoot one-and-one when the total team fouls had reached seven in a half, and a double-bonus at 10 team fouls would switch the penalty to two free throws. Now, at just five team fouls per quarter, two foul shots is the standard.

The reasoning for the change according to rule makers: a chance to reduce injuries on rebounding plays and improve game flow. Um, what?

Aside from the NFHS forgetting basketball is a contact sport where rebounds happen on just about every possession, the change ignores the pressure it puts on players attempting one-and-one free throws. You had to make that first to earn a second, and with as many free throws missed at the high school level, why take away a rule that really mattered?

Additionally, one-and-one could be seen as a reward for good defense and keeping foul totals low heading into the second and fourth quarters. What better reward than for that defense to play smart in the late game by strategically fouling shooters that have a higher chance of missing that first shot? It happens all the time in college.

I can understand the argument for an improved game flow, but if you have a team racking up five or more fouls in a quarter anyway, you should be forced to adjust your game plan to account for, maybe, not fouling.

It is rule changes like this that continue to overshadow the sorely needed changes to the game. It hurts as a fan who actually sits in the stands, watching the game getting worse every year.