A few weeks back I wrote on the merits of the “no zone “rule introduced into the VJBL under 12 competitions to complement the rule already in place at the under 14 level. There is not much debate among experienced coaches on the benefits of teaching man to man defense to young players and encouraging teams to play man to man is also very beneficial to the development of player’s offensive abilities.
Unfortunately, during finals of the under 12 Victorian Championships a rather farcical situation occurred where a team appeared to be playing a zone in the final quarter of a game they came back from double digits down to win. While the losing team did not want to make a formal complaint (it was the first game they lost for the season however) they did want to alert the VJBL that it might occur in the Grand Final the following week and they thought the team should at least be on notice. The normal process for deciding whether the rules were broken or not is for the team making the accusation to produce video evidence to the VJBL who then gather a team of experts to review the video. If a team is found to have played a zone, then the result can be reversed. Although no formal complaint was made the expert panel found that indeed a zone was played so they reversed the result anyway. This is where the circus began, instead of accepting the VJBL’s decision, the team who had the result taken from them bought in a lawyer – yep a lawyer – and appealed to Basketball Australia who were convinced there was reasonable doubt about whether there was actually a zone played and the result was reversed again. I guess in the bylaws there must be scope for BA to be the High Court on such issues. All this took a week or so with the two teams to actually play off in the Grand Final not actually decided until the day before. In the end the team accused of playing the zone went on to win the Grand Final.
Now I’m not going to get into A. The need for coaches to play within the spirit of the rules, B. the right of individuals to play any type of defense they choose – if they want to play in the VJBL though the rules stipulate you aren’t allowed to play a zone - comply or good bye. C. the mindset of someone who wants to bring in lawyers to decide an under 12 game – I mean really??
What I’d like to discuss is whether there is a better way to implement the rule.
Anything that requires video analysis that occurs away from the event is troublesome. Video analysis is now quite common at the professional level but the technology involved allows it to be used instantly not retrospectively.
Having “zone busters’ who visit different venues around the league is helpful but they aren’t able to see every game so again it is not fair and equal for all teams so it is less than efficient. Having a score bench official at every game who is a qualified coach who can spot illegal defense and instantly have the power to interject into the game with a warning or a penalty would also be a good option but unrealistic due to the man power and cost involved.
Personally and even I’m scared at the suggestion I think it’s something that the referees could be given the responsibility to police. In order for that to be successful it would need to be introduced as a rule, specific to the level of play – much like the closer three-point line juniors use. The simpler the rule is then perhaps the simpler it would be for the referees to police.
To research this suggestion I was able to track down the rules the NBA introduced when they went the “no zone” route in 1980, here are the rules they introduced;
• Zone defense rules clarified with new rules for Illegal Defensive Alignments.
a. Weak side defenders may come in the pro lane (16’), but not in the college lane (12’) for more than three seconds.
b. Defender on post player is allowed in defensive three-second area (A post player is any player adjacent to paint area).
c. Player without ball may not be double-teamed from weak side.
d. Offensive player above foul line and inside circle must be played by defender inside dotted line.
e. If offensive player is above the top of the circle, defender must come to a position above foul line.
f. Defender on cutter must follow the cutter, switch, or double-team the ball.
• After the first illegal defense violation, the clock is reset to 24 seconds. All subsequent violations result in one free throw and possession of the ball. If any violation occurs during the last 24 seconds of each quarter or overtime period, the offended team receives one free throw.
For the next twenty years’ coaches and players went about finding ways to circumnavigate the rules to make it harder for guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan to dominate the game. Then in 2001 a new rule was introduced;
• Illegal defense guidelines will be eliminated in their entirety.
• A new defensive three-second rule will prohibit a defensive player from remaining in the lane for more than three consecutive seconds without closely guarding an offensive player.
This is the rule that I think the VJBL should adopt and it is a rule that I think referees are capable of policing as it just requires them to do something they already do at the offensive end.
Now how would the cunning coaches looking to exploit the rules try to cheat this one?
The only loop hole they could try to exploit is the “closely guarded” statement. So what is closely guarded? I can hear the under 12 championship winning coach ask, well maybe the defender needs to be close enough to touch the player they are guarding, that would cover any post up play and I think referees are capable of making that judgement. Anyone more than a metre or so out of the lane could still be adequately guarded and without the need for the defender to be in the key.
I need to remind readers the spirit of the rule is to stop teams sticking their tallest players in the middle of the key making it highly unlikely that they will develop the ability to guard moving players. The rule is also designed to open up the key area to allow for the development of offensive players to penetrate the key area easier using the pass, cut or dribble. While some would argue they need to be able to do this also against a zone they miss the point that at the older levels the outside shooting ability of players forces the zones to play further away from the key areas making penetration a little easier.
It’s the inability of under 12 and 14’s to shoot the ball well from the perimeter that makes zone a good tactic at those levels and a risky tactic at the senior level. Maybe another rule option could be to make any shot taken outside the key a 3 pointer!! Nope forget that.
I think the referees are capable of making a three second defensive call. The first violation could be a warning and then technical fouls against the bench for each time it happens thereafter. It’s decided there and then, no correspondence can be entered, Rumpole of the Bailey types can stick to their area of expertise and we can stick with the time honoured basketball tradition of blaming the referees for our loses.