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Hands-off policy bringing basketball into a new era
 

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Hands-off policy bringing basketball into a new era

High school basketball officials are ready to do a lot more whistling while they're working.

And they'll be ready for more hooting and hollering as players, coaches and fans get used to the emphasis from the NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations to eliminate a lot of physical play and give players more offensive freedom of movement.

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If you have watched any of the early-season college games, or seen some of the higher scores, then you've probably already noticed the difference. The whistles will blow if a defender hand-checks a ballhandler, puts his hands or arms into the back of a big man when he gets the ball in the post or tries to bump a player cutting through the lane.

In conferences where physical play has been the norm, such as the Mid-Suburban League, getting used to the changes will take some time. And, at least in the early stages of this transition, there will be more time spent by teams at the free-throw line.

"I'm getting ready to blow my whistle," laughed John McGuinnis, who officiates high school basketball, football and softball and is a vice president with the Athletic Officials Service, an area association with more than 90 officials. "I'm hopeful and feel very strongly this might be a tempest in a teapot. After a week or two or three of us blowing whistles ... the kids are going to learn."

None of this is a surprise to high school coaches who have been informed of this stance taken by the NCAA and NFHS. The leeway that may have been given in the past -- in some cases to the old "no blood, no foul" line -- no longer exists when it comes to contact that isn't incidental.

"You'll get better defenders," McGuinnis said. "Some people have talked about allowing one-touch or not, and we've said, 'Nothing, no touch.'

"We told our officials, 'You have to call this stuff.' This is coming down from the NCAA, and players who have aspirations or the ability to go to the next level, we're doing them a disservice by not preparing them for college-level defense."

This is also something officials such as those with AOS have been preparing for in preseason meetings where they review rules and mechanics to get ready for the season. Theirs is a sport that has become more and more difficult to officiate through the years with bigger, quicker and stronger players.

And you rarely see those players sitting back in a 2-3 zone and waving their hands back and forth as if they are dancing on a children's TV show. The defenses have become more intense, frenetic and physical all over the court.

On top of the changes directly involving the game, bench decorum is also a point of emphasis by the IHSA after last year's technical-foul marred Class 2A boys state title game between champion Harrisburg and Seton Academy, which refused to come out for the postgame ceremony to accept its second-place trophy. Now, officials have been instructed to use a "zero tolerance" policy and assess technical fouls to coaches who don't follow the rules regarding the coaches box.

Coaches must be in the box at all times while the game is in progress. The only reason they can leave the coaches box during play is to go to the scorer's table to request a stoppage for a conference regarding a correctable error.

Coaches have also been told they are not to communicate with officials during time outs and intermissions between quarters. However, making sure coaches are where they are supposed to be can be easier said than done.

"We understand the (new) contact rule," McGuinnis said, "but we don't understand how we can police the coaches box when 10 guys are running around and it's controlled mayhem out here."

But McGuinnis and his fellow officials will do the best they can to control the mayhem.

"Like the state says, it's clear cut," McGuinnis said of the directive on illegal contact. "Officials, players and coaches have to adjust.

"I don't know about the fans," he added with a laugh.

• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at marty.maciaszek@gmail.com.

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