Originally Published: Dec 9, 2013

So about those new rules ... are they working?

By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The game had just ended and John Adams had one thing on his mind -- the roast beef sandwich on Hawaiian bread awaiting him at a Springfield Arby's on the drive home between Columbus and Indianapolis.

Unfortunately, the woman sitting in the stands behind him had other ideas. The Ohio State fan wearing the white down vest and red turtleneck spied Adams' name, and more his title (NCAA supervisor of officials) on his press row seat and wanted to ask a simple question:

"Do you think these new rules are working?''

Too bad she didn't have an easier one, such as how to get Republicans and Democrats to work together.

Are the new rules working and, maybe more critically, are they worth it? It depends whom you ask. But no matter whom you ask, they will undoubtedly have an opinion. Plenty want to share them with Adams.

Fortunately, after 15 years patrolling the court as a college official himself, he has developed dinosaur thick skin. He has read comments from critical coaches, including Tom Izzo, whom Adams respects a great deal. Without being impolite, Adams doesn't care.

In his mind, the question really doesn't merit an answer because the rules to eliminate handchecking and arm bars, and also to significantly alter the block-charge call, are the rules now.

They aren't going away.

"When those four things [placing and keeping a hand/forearm on an opponent, putting two hands on an opponent, continually jabbing an opponent and using an arm bar] happen against a player with the ball, they're fouls,'' he said. "They're not maybe a foul, sometimes a foul, not late in the game they're not a foul. They're fouls.''

The trouble so far, though, is that there have been an awful lot of them and people are wondering if, in an effort to make the game better, the rules committee hasn't at least temporarily made it worse.

To find out just how things are going, ESPN.com watched a game with Adams, the one man whose opinion really matters. We watched the Ohio State-Wyoming game with him last month.


The first whistle came with 16:42 on the clock and it came against arguably one of the best defenders in the country, Ohio State's Aaron Craft, the Big Ten's two-time defensive player of the year.

Adams, who noticed Craft giving a far wider berth to the player he was guarding than a year earlier, simply shrugged.

"That's a foul,'' he said, jotting down a note on his notepad.

Adams always has been a note taker.

Before he became the defender of rule changes, his biggest job was to evaluate officials and find the best ones to work the NCAA tournament. Unlike in the NBA, the 838 registered college referees aren't full-time employees and they aren't employed by a central office. They work as independent contractors, paid by individual conferences (most work for multiple leagues).

Leon Halip/Getty ImagesTom Izzo was one of the coaches concerned about how the rules changes would impact the game.

Each league submits a list of officials it would recommend to work the tournament and Adams is obliged to have one from each (32 automatic official qualifiers, if you will), but he relies mostly on his own evaluations and those of his four regional coordinators to choose the 108 (100 active and eight alternate) people who will work the games in March.

In order to find the best, he canvasses the country during the regular season and watches countless games on tape, transferring his personal notes into formulaic evaluation forms that rank performances on everything from an official's fitness to their call accuracy. But with the attention on the new rules, this year Adams' note taking has another purpose. Back in Indianapolis, the NCAA tapes every game he attends; at his home, he tapes several more. He uses his notes to go to spots he has marked as he re-watches the game film.

Each week he compiles a video highlight/lowlight film for officials to view on an NCAA website, stressing examples of how the new rules were called properly and improperly.

"Getting 838 people together on anything that requires any kind of judgment call is hard,'' Adams said. "But the games I've seen, the buy-in by the officials has been extraordinary. I'm not getting any push-back. I'm not saying there haven't been missed calls. They have. But I think they like it because it's taken some of the gray out of the game.''


The gray always has been a problem in any sport. Strike or ball? Pass interference or no call? Charge or block? Subjectivity is impossible to remove entirely from game officiating, but in basketball, it had gone too far. Officials were given latitude to consider whether a foul was actually impeding a player's progress as opposed to looking at the black and white, foul or no foul.

These rules eliminate that.

With 3:16 left in the first half, Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross was whistled for a foul on an entry pass to Wyoming's Larry Nance Jr.

"The new rules had nothing to do with that,'' Adams said. "That was a foul two years ago, two months ago and 2 minutes ago.''

And the difference is now it's being called. And it's being called in New York and Los Angeles, in November and presumably in March.

Anyone who has...

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