As I often explain, sports are a great laboratory for research. This post describes a possible "flaw" in the sport of college basketball. By "flaw" I mean a contingency in the on-court play that is not covered by the rules or leads to an impossible result. In the broader society we see such contingencies arise all the time, as reality has no qualms about coming up with circumstances that are not covered (well) by laws and regulations That is of course one reason why there is a judicial system.
The "flaw" in the rules of college basketball is described by Bob Walsh, the blogging and Tweeting head basketball coach at Rhode Island College:
In other words, if a defensive player steps into the lane before the free throw shooter releases the ball, then under the rules the referee must give the shooter another opportunity if they miss the free throw. If the player is trying to miss the free throw on purpose, then this could go on forever or until the player (accidentally) makes the shot.
So you put your opponent in a situation where they have to miss a free throw to beat you. And after getting frustrated in practice with our inability to miss free throws to work on block outs, it made me think - why would you let your opponent miss a free throw when he needs to? If you violate the lane, they can't miss the free throw. Every time they miss, the whistle will blow and they will get another shot. Until they make it, which is bound to happen by mistake (thinking back to how often it happens in practice).
Walsh has actually used this strategy (at his post on the subject he links to a game video), and describes the reaction that he has received from referees:
Before we put the intentional violation in our time and score package I did ask a number of different officials what they would do in an intentional violation situation. Everyone of them said they had never heard of it or seen it before and had to think about it before answering. Some of them said they really didn't know what they would do. Others did say they would have to call a technical foul for delay of game. I asked them if they would just call it, or if they would warn me first, and everyone of them said they would warn me first. So a technical foul is eventually a possibility, but they certainly would come to you first and ask you to stop the violating before calling it.But wait:
Interestingly I have talked with some Big East and other high level officials after that game, and a lot of them said the technical foul was not the right call. In fact, the actual official who did the game and said he was going to assess a technical was at a Big East camp that summer, and one of the supervisors told him it was the wrong call. He said you can't assess a technical there, the rule is clear it's another free throw attempt. So it is still clear that officials are not sure how to handle it as I get many different answers.What this tells us is that even in a highly structured and rule-based game, contingencies can arise that are not well-covered by the rules. Sometimes, these contingencies arise because of changing technologies (like instant relay which led the NFL to define what a "catch" means) and sometimes because a clever coach has come up with an innovative strategy.
In both cases we learn that rules are organic and subject to revision based on the lessons of experience.