« CFP: National Conference of Constitutional Law Scholars | Main | Inazu responds to Horwitz's review of "Confident Pluralism" »

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Update on late-game fouling and the "Elam Ending"

In April I wrote about the proposal from Nick Elam to eliminate late-game fouling basketball by making the end of the game untimed and playing to a target score (+7 of the leading team when the clock is turned off in the final minute). The Basketball Tournament implemented the Elam Ending for its 16-team pre-tournament; it now reports on the results--there was no late-game fouling, some exciting comebacks, and the final time time lasted between two and five minutes of game time.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 22, 2017 at 04:13 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


As long as there is a game clock, trailing teams must be able to foul in the final minutes--there simply is no other way to come back when the leading team has no incentive to shoot. At best, shortening the shot clock delays the point at which teams feel they need to start fouling. But at some point the shot clock is going to be turned off and a trailing team cannot do anything else but foul.

Hack-a-Shaq is not a problem in the final minutes--teams are not targeting bad FT shooters off the ball. The fouls are always on the person with the ball, who is usually the team's best ballhandler and FT shooter.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 29, 2018 11:39:29 AM

I think the Elam Ending takes away one of the essential elements of any game: playing to the whistle. Sure, some folks run out the clock, but that's a time honored tradition. The notion of just playing to points turns games into playground ball, and it rubs me the wrong way.

I think a much better way is to tweak the rules to discourage fouling:
1. All fouls in the last two minutes are 2 shots (no fouls to give, no 1 and 1)
2. More draconian: fouled team gets to choose who shoots (no hack a Shaq)
3. Really draconian: 3 shots on a foul
4. To even it up, shot clock is 7 seconds shorter from 2:00 to 1:00 and 10 seconds shorter from 1:00 to 0:00.

This would force play, eliminate fouls, and keep the essential time element of the game intact.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Jul 29, 2018 10:48:10 AM

Interesting idea. But I am not sure it is simpler. There can be lead changes, which could create confusion for officials and players as to when the clock should be on or off. It also may be over-inclusive, if the clock is off in a one-point, when the trailing team has no incentive to foul.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 28, 2018 3:49:04 PM

The Elam Ending is a good idea, but here's a better, simpler and less radical way to eliminate multiple deliberate fouls by a trailing team in the closing minutes of a game. This way would also keep buzzer beaters and overtime as part of the game.
One new rule is all that's needed. During then last 2 minutes of the second half and the last 2 minutes of any overtime period, the game clock would stop when a team with a lead has possession of the ball. The game clock would run normally when a team that was trailing has the ball and when the score is tied. The shot clock rule would not change; it would be in effect all the time.

Posted by: Sheldon Burke | Jul 28, 2018 3:03:35 PM

I'd like to see data on whether the EE gives an advantage to the team that's leading before the untimed section. We'd test that by seeing how often the leading team wins using EE vs without EE. My guess is that EE would give the leading team an advantage, so then the question is whether doing that is worth the time saved for viewers.

Posted by: RaffD | Jul 27, 2017 11:35:49 AM

It's an interesting solution, but I wonder how this could end up impacting game play. We have to presume that teams would recruit and practice with the tournament structure in mind. For instance, this might end up favoring teams with fewer superstar athletes but a stronger bench. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think we should be careful of how the game might be altered when changing the rules to make it more exciting for the audience.

Another approach (though only during the regular season; this wouldn't work for tournaments) would be a modified-win/modified-loss point structure for games that end with a very small margin of victory. Say a team wins by 5 or fewer points, they are awarded 0.6 match wins, while the loser receives 0.2.

I may be misunderstanding the dynamics of the intentional foul, but it seems to increase both the chances of a comeback, as well as the chance for a runaway victory by the team that started ahead (assuming they make their free throws). The chance to receive some points from a modified loss could discourage teams from intentionally fouling and potentially losing those fractional wins. Meanwhile, it would encourage the winning team to continue playing aggressively to receive a full win, and presumably this aggressive play would open up more opportunities for the trailing team to catch up.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Jul 24, 2017 9:16:00 AM

Why does it have to be all or nothing? There are benefits to the sport being timed (mainly that games would take too long and the natural structure in the game's organization would be lost), so that is the general rule. Many believe that those benefits are outweighed in the final minutes because intentional fouling is the only way a team can come back. So this rule seeks to redraw the balance only in that small period in which timing leads to other problems. But taking away the clock in the 2-minute window in which fouling is a problem does not mean we should eliminate the clock for the other 46 minutes, when we don't have that problem.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 23, 2017 11:20:49 PM

If this sort of play is your goal, why not just eliminate the clock for the entire game? It then just becomes like games on the playground: first team to 20 baskets (or whatever arbitrary number you choose) wins. If you want to keep the free throws and/or 3-point shots in the game, then make it the first team to 60 points wins.

Why do the rules need to change at the end? (I'll admit, however, that I thought hack-a-Shaq was a sound strategy.)

Posted by: HokieEngineer | Jul 23, 2017 10:13:17 PM

It is great to hear that it worked out well, I hope it is tested in more tournaments. Now, if only someone could invent a way to get rid of the 3-pt shot.

Posted by: Jr | Jul 23, 2017 4:14:11 PM

Anything to improve the unwatchable, lame ending of current NBA and NCAA games. This is a GIANT improvement

Posted by: Anon | Jul 22, 2017 5:23:51 PM

Anything to improve the unwatchable, lame ending of current NBA and NCAA games. This is a GIANT improvement

Posted by: Anon | Jul 22, 2017 5:23:50 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.