Saturday, February 20, 2016

Toeing the line

Lines can be fairly important in many walks of life. Cross a crime scene line and one might quickly find themselves handcuffed in the back of a patrol car. Crossing a picket line can be hazardous to one's health or vehicle. Any aspiring Romeo needs a good line or two when trying to impress a member of the fairer sex. For that matter, prisons and graveyards have many residents that either DID too many lines or sold them to others.

How many times have you been required to sign on a dotted line, or stand/get in line? Probably a lot over the years.

The world of sports has a lot of lines as well. Some are taken quite seriously, others not so much.

In the serious category consider tennis. Lines matter. Upon replay, we have often seen the "eye in the sky" zero in to determine whether a struck ball barely touched a line -- or not. In pro football, much the same holds true. Many times "further review" will show us (and the refs) if a receiver got both feet down in bounds after a catch. If one of his tootsies merely touched the sideline by a hundredth of an inch -- the pass is incomplete. Cameras on both sides always monitor the goal lines to see if the "plane" was broken for a touchdown. Sometimes it's a very close call. Baseball has their foul lines -- which like foul poles -- have always been a misnomer. Any batted ball striking either is not foul, but fair.

Yet other lines don't seem to matter much. They're there, but often ignored. Both pro and college basketball offer up a multitude of evidence. Teams will line up on both sides of the "lane" when a free-throw shooter is attempting a shot. They're not supposed to cross the line into the "paint" until the shot is actually released and in the air. But they routinely do-- and the refs let it go.

Much more egregious are the coaches. If you look closely, you will see small lines perpendicular to the side line stripes that limit how far coaches are supposedly allowed to pace up the court. They are typically about a foot behind the three-point line -- there's that word again, at the "top of the key". Those lines are there for two reasons. They give the officials a "neutral zone" at mid-court to confer if necessary, and it just wouldn't do to allow either coach to walk in front of the opponents' bench.

Not only are these "coach" limits routinely ignored, so are the actual sidelines themselves. A case in point would be Indiana Hoosier head coach Tom Crean in a recently concluded game against Purdue. Crean has long been known for maniacally double timing it back and forth in front of his own bench. And that's OK. Many college basketball coaches are raving lunatics during the course of games.

But when he totally ignores the "coaches box", he should be warned by the closest official. "There's the line. Don't cross it again. If you do it will result in a technical foul". One would think college coaches getting paid millions of dollars are smart enough to comprehend the concept of lines that aren't supposed to be crossed. But they always push, push, push, to see what they can get away with. It's not right.

In Crean's case, it got to be ridiculous. Besides roaming far beyond the coaches box, he routinely stood 2-3 feet "inbounds" while play was going on. On a couple occasions a ref had to dodge him while hustling up-court to continue monitoring the action. Yet no call was made. Not even a warning. So what's the point of having lines if they're just going to be ignored anyway with no consequences?

Yours truly is certainly no big fan of more rules and regs. Lord knows, we've long had them coming out of our ears on many different fronts. Try figuring out health care or the IRS tax code. Nobody knows what the hell is going on, except there's a rule against everything if somebody wants to dig deep enough into the fine print.

Yet there's an easy way to fix this problem on the basketball courts. Before the start of every game have the refs tell both coaches to stay in their designated areas. Any infraction, even by an inch, will result in an immediate technical foul. The other team gets two free-throws and possession of the ball. A second violation will result in another technical and ejection from the game.

If enforced a few times, this nonsense would stop in a heartbeat. And there's never been any good reason for it to have been allowed in the first place.

Lines are lines. If they're going to be crucial in some sports, then they should be equally important across the board. Don't cross means don't cross. Bang the coaches and the sometimes equally guilty bench players will get the message as well. Stay off the damn court. Hey, if a baseball fan hops on the field for a second to retrieve a foul ball souvenir, and right back into his seat -- he'll likely get ejected from the stadium -- right? So if fans have to abide by such strict rules, so should coaches and players.

Seems simple enough. And why is it that when a basketball team calls a time-out (of which they have WAY too many), the whole squad has to come on the court to huddle up? Couldn't they do that on the sidelines?

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