The exuberant joy of March Madness is getting killed by three stupid words:
Drawing the charge.
Forget academics fraud, pay-for-play scandals or Mike Rice acting like a maniac at Rutgers—the biggest issue facing the NCAA right now has to do with defenders sliding underneath leaping offensive players trying to draw a charge.
A disputed charge call may have determined the Final Four game between Syracuse and Michigan. The Orange were trailing 58-56 with 19.2 seconds left when Michigan's Jordan Morgan slid underneath a penetrating—and airborne—Brandon Triche to draw a charge.
Michigan coach John Beilein praised Morgan for his ability to insert himself beneath offensive players. "Jordan is our best charge-taker," an enthusiastic Beilein said in a post-game interview. "He stood in there and took a good one."
Praising players for drawing charges makes my skin crawl.
And it's killing March Madness.
The Purpose of the Charge
The intent of having a charge in the first place is to prevent offensive players from lowering their shoulder and simply bullying their way past, or through, defenders.
Think about it—what comes to mind when you hear the word "charge"?
If you are like me, you think about a cavalry charging its opponent head-on. If you fail to get out of the way of a charging cavalry, they will mow you down. Their intent is to charge right over the top of you. Good luck trying to stop them.
When a basketball player truly charges over an opponent, that should be an offensive foul. The problem with today's college basketball game is that far too many defensive players are being rewarded for sliding under an offensive player who is already airborne or about to become so.
This needs to stop.
The Letter of the Law
The NCAA rulebook defines a charge in Rule 10, Section 1, Article 8 (page 94) this way:
"A dribbler shall neither charge into nor contact an opponent in the dribbler's path ... "
The letter of the law reads as though a ball handler cannot "charge into" a defender in his path. The problem with this rule in today's NCAA game is that players are so fast that it takes a fraction of a second for them to go from the three-point line to the rim. They slash and elevate in the blink of an eye. Offensive players are often leaving their feet when defenders slide under them. In these cases the leaping offensive players is not "charging into" the defender as stated in the rule book.
Furthermore, Article 10 elaborates on the rights offensive players have in going to the hole:
"When a dribbler has obtained a straight-line path, the dribbler may not be bumped, pushed, or otherwise crowded out of that path. When an opponent is able to legally obtain a guarding position in that path, the dribbler shall avoid contact by changing directions or ending the dribble."
Too often in today's NCAA the lightning-quick slashers/penetrators have no ability to avoid contact by changing directions. Charges are normally called when the offensive player has already picked up his dribble and begun the process of leaving his feet to attack the rim. The defender then slides into his path, at which point the offensive player literally cannot avoid contact.
The most enduring quote from this year's Final Four is this:
"Jordan is our best charge-taker."
And with this, the joy of March Madness has collapsed into a heap of crashing bodies under the rim.
It's time basketball fans rose up and revolted against the tyranny of the charge. If need be, I will be that man.
Call the cavalry. I'm leading the charge!