Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Other Statistical Head-Scratchers and Ridiculous Rules

I was thrilled last week when my first attempt at blogging fueled some good discussion and thoughtful comments about not only the method of recording defensive stats in college football, but also a number of other aspects of stat-keeping and rules in collegiate athletics.

A number of folks--mostly SIDs or people with a background in athletic media relations--brought up some really good points. So I thought I'd share a few of them here in this entry of ConspicuouSIDeas...

One former hoops SID raised a great point about assists in college basketball. Before we go further, let's take a look at how the NCAA's 2009 Official Basketball Statisticians' Manual (accessible here) defines an assist:

A player is credited with an assist when the player makes, in the judgment of the statistician, the principal pass contributing directly to a field goal (or an awarded score of two or three points). Only one assist is to be credited on any field goal and only when the pass was a major part of the play. The same player cannot be credited with an assist and a field goal made on the same possession.

Such a pass should be either (a) a pass that finds a player free after he or she has maneuvered without the ball for a positional advantage, or (b) a pass that gives the receiving player a positional advantage he or she otherwise would not have had.

An assist should be more than a routine pass that just happens to be followed by a field goal. It should be a conscious effort to find the open player or to help a player work free. There should not be a limit on the number of dribbles by the receiver. It is not even necessary that the assist be given on the last pass. There is no restraint on the distance or type of shot made, for these are not the crucial factors in determining whether an assist should be credited

Despite the verbatim wording that an assist is a "principal pass contributing directly to a field goal (or an awarded score of two or three points)," there is an instance in college basketball when a player can make a pass that leads to "an awarded score of two or three points" but is not credited with an assist--that instance is when the shooter is fouled and converts the resulting free throws.

Failure to credit an assist in this instance makes little to no sense.

Picture this hardwood scenario...

Johnson makes a perfect back-door bounce pass to Brown down on the block, and an opposing defender scrambles over and fouls Brown, thus forcing Brown to miss his layup. But Brown goes to the free-throw line and converts both his free throws.

Did Johnson's pass lead to "an awarded score of two points?"

Yes. Brown would never have had possession of the ball on the block or been able to attempt the layup were it not for Johnson's pass.

But because the resulting points came via free throws, no assist for Johnson.

The foul was out of Johnson's control. But the pass made the play possible. If you really break it down, not only did the pass lead directly to two points, it also led to the opposing team increasing its number of team fouls for the half, which could ultimately lead to more points via bonus free throws.

Some folks may make the following argument: What if Brown made only one of his two free throws?

Well despite my personal feeling that every solitary point is crucial (particularly if your team ends up on the winning side of a one-point ballgame), I'm willing to cede the fact that the statisticians' manual defines an assist as a pass that leads to two or three points. Devaluing the assist is not my intent here.

So even though Brown's 1-for-2 trip to the charity stripe may be enough to make the difference in the game, I'm fine with it also being enough to wipe a potential assist off Johnson's line in the final boxscore.

I'd sure love to see this rule tweaked. What's your take on this one?

From the desk of a BCS-conference football SID--a timing suggestion that ought to become reality on the college gridiron...

In the final minute of a quarter, why does the game clock not display tenths of a second? In the final minute of a half in college basketball, the final minute counts down using tenths of a second starting at 59.9 seconds to play.

Is the closing minute of a quarter in college football any less important?

The person who brought this timing flaw to my attention offers a plausible reason as to why there isn't more of a groundswell to change this aspect of game timing--there is no horn/buzzer in football. The final second ticks off and that's that.

But what if a team had the benefit of knowing--more precisely--exactly how much time it possessed in the closing minute of a game on a potential scoring drive?

Think of it this way. In football, at the very instant when the clock displays 59 seconds remaining, there is really 59.9 seconds remaining (because a full second passed at the start of the quarter before the clock first ticked to 14:59).

Thus, when the clock displays 00 seconds remaining, in reality there is 0.9 seconds remaining. But due to the absence of a final horn, as soon as the officials see the game clock at zeros, the quarter/half/game is over.

Every season, teams are conceivably being deprived of one more play. One play can change a drive, a quarter, a game, a season. Thank goodness at least college basketball has it right.

Pat Forde, Chris Low, Dennis Dodd--somebody, please! Either prove this line of thinking wrong or bring some national attention to the issue.

And lastly, courtesy of yet another former longtime hoops SID, a rules issue pertaining to jersey numbers in college football...

Joe Fan may be apathetic to whether or not his favorite college football team is allowed to dress out two players wearing the same number, but there is little doubt that double numbers are a pain in the butt for stat crews as well as media covering games.

In 2006, Cal's football team had a pair of standout players who both wore No. 1: wide receiver DeSean "Cross the Goal Line Before You Discard the Ball" Jackson, and linebacker Worrell Williams. Both players were starters. And that was just one of many duos who wore the same number.

As my friend wisely asserted, "Double numbers should only be used when dressing 100+ players at home games, (with) the second number going to a walk-on who is not likely to play."

One cause for this confusing problem is that during the recruiting process, coaches promise certain numbers to certain prospects, regardless of whether or not another player on the roster is already wearing that number.

And don't come at me with the "as long as one player plays defense and the other plays offense it doesn't matter" argument, either.

Stat crews don't want to deal with the headache of double numbers, and I'd guess that writers and broadcasters feel the same way.

Thanks to all who gave me feedback on my first-ever blog attempt. Many of you helped give me some great fodder for this entry, which I hope will lead to some more good discussion. If you enjoy the blog, don't forget to follow me on Twitter @TomSatkowiak.

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