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Dick Vitale Is Wrong About The Alternating Possession

When the NCAA announced it was moving the three point line back, Dick Vitale wrote an enthusiastic treatise supporting the move. He also found time to agree with Jim Boeheim over the decision not to widen the lane and complain about the fact the rules committee decided to leave the alternating possession rule in place.

There was no change in the alternate possession rule, and that troubles me. I don't understand how people that are so bright and passionate for the game cannot see it is totally unfair to reward a team that doesn't deserve it. To see a great defensive effort penalized is mind-boggling to me.

Again, the three-point line moving will help the game. The next step should be widening the lane to allow players to take the ball to the goal. Oh well, sometimes progress happens slowly.

Anyone who has watched a game Dick Vitale has been involved in hears him complain about this rule at some point during the contest. In fact I am not certain it was even on the table this spring for consideration yet here is Vitale trotting it out there like college basketball is egregiously suffering because the arrow is used to determine possession on a jump ball. Vitale's major gripe is that if a defender forces a jump ball, either by reaching in and tying up an opposing player or by blocking the shot, if the arrow gives it back to the offensive team a miscarriage of justice has occurred because the defense was not rewarded with the ball. And for awhile I kind of agreed with that until about the 185th time I heard Vitale freak out over it. At that point I thought it through and figured out there were some major faults with his argument.

The crux of his complaint is that the defense makes a great defensive play and the arrow does not reward that play. The first problem with this argument is it is not always true. There are times when the defense forces a jump ball and the arrow is in their favor. I have no idea what the stats on this are but I would imagine, all things being relative, that it probably works out to be a 50-50 proposition. In other words the defense is only not being rewarded about half the time.

The second part of the equation is that resorting to an actual jump ball might not necessarily reward the defense because you still have to win the jump ball. Once again I do not have stats on this but if Ty Lawson reaches in and ties up Greg Zoubek forcing a jump ball it is pretty evident that Lawson is not going to be "rewarded" with possession. There is no way of knowing, at any given time, what the jump ball matchup will be and there is a chance that the defense could see a lower percentage of possessions coming off a jump ball situation than they do under the current rule. It is sort of short sighted to believe that switching to an actual jump ball in a tie up rewards the defensive play when it actually will require more effort to get the ball.

Thirdly, it occurred to me that one huge hole in Vitale's argument was his assertion that the arrow negated the great defensive play. How so? If the defender forces a jump ball that means he has successfully stopped his man from scoring or doing something positive on offense. If the offense has the arrow they then must inbound and attempt to score again which means the defense can force a five second count and if not they are setup to defend against the offense. I think most coaches would agree that if they force a jump ball and then get a chance to deny the inbounds and also be able to setup their defense on the offensive end it is a benefit to them. In any case I think it still aids the defense proceed from that point even if they lose the arrow. I also would point out that in some cases the defense does not go unrewarded by the arrow even if they lose it. If one team forces the jump ball, loses the arrow but forces an arrow change during the first half and no other jump balls occur then they get the ball to begin the second half which means they were ultimately rewarded for that particular defensive effort. On top of this argument I have to ask why the offensive player is thrown out into the cold when he did manage to hold onto the ball in most case even if it results in a tie up.

The bottom line for me is that if you considered the number of times a defense actually has the arrow, the instances where the offense fails to score following the jump ball resulting in a defensive rebound, the number of times the arrow change results in one team getting the ball in the second half or in a later game situation perhaps and factor in the possibility that the defensive team might not win the tip you almost have to conclude that the number of times good defense is being penalized by the arrow is probably much lower than Vitale thinks and probably not enough to impact the game.

Note: I have no statistical evidence to back any of these assertions up but am concluding them on what I have observed.  It seems to me it breaks even over the course of the game or even the season.