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Bob Ryan

‘Taking a charge’ should be outlawed in basketball

C.J. Fair of Syracuse was called for this charging foul against Duke on Feb. 22. Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Good morning, congregation. Today’s sermon will be brief. The topic will be sin, and that’s what I’m ag’in’.

Wait, that’s Johnny Mercer from “Accentuate The Positive.” Can’t get that song out of my head. Sorry.

Actually, there are two related topics, and they involve things I am definitely ag’in’.

I know you’re probably Boeheimed out by now, but hear me out. Yes, Jim Boeheim clearly overreacted last Saturday night when he nearly took flight in protest of a key block/charge call that went against his Syracuse Orange with 10 seconds remaining in that game with Duke. I don’t care what the call is. You can’t expect to put on a demonstration like that without expecting to get T’d up and sent to the locker room.


And to maintain with a straight face that referee Tony Greene’s adjudication was the “worst call of the year” was disingenuous to the extreme. We all know it wasn’t even the worst call of the game, let alone of the year. We all know there were 50 worse calls all over America that very evening. It was, in fact, a textbook example of a borderline call.

As long as there will be people taking it to the hoop there will be block/charge calls to make, and most of them will leave one party aggrieved, completely sure, in the moment, that it should have gone the other way. When they occur in the first half, or with five minutes to go, they are annoying and disturbing, but not game-altering. When they occur with 10 seconds remaining in a 2-point game, they are sufficient pretense for the outbreak of WWIII. Anyone who loves basketball knows that, it’s part of the deal.

But I believe I have a different take on the matter. I think the problem is that a sinister practice has been allowed to take root in the game, a practice that, it seems to me, is quite illogical at the core. I abhor the whole idea of, yup, taking “charges.” It baffles me how this was ever incorporated into the game of basketball in the first place.


Where does that rank on your 1-to-10 scale of basketball heresy?

Think about it. Please. I bet you have never thought about it, that you have simply accepted it as a given that if someone “establishes position” on the floor, and is then run into by an offensive player in possession of the basketball, that you have done a good and noble thing. You have taken a charge. Bully for you!

I say, “Bah, humbug!” I say, “I don’t think so.” I say, well, something I can’t say here, but I think you know where I’m going with all this.

Great. Now will someone please tell me what sense it makes to reward a defender for just standing there, like a telephone pole, in the name of “good defense?” Shouldn’t the defender be required to make a play of some sort? Shouldn’t he or she have to put his or her hands up, or attempt to swat away the basketball or make some sort of movement designed to thwart the shot? Why should doing nothing be rewarded? Try to block or impede the shot. Trust in the “principle of verticality,” and the official’s ability to apply it properly.

Tony Greene had to make a decision according to the rule. Either he believed that Duke’s Rodney Hood had planted his feet firmly on the floor before Syracuse’s C.J. Fair left his feet for his layup attempt, in which case it would be a “charge,” or he didn’t. Mr. Greene decided in favor of Hood, and he took away the basket. It was a very close call, a very difficult judgment to make. I would have allowed the basket because I am so heavily inclined to favor the offense in these matters. But anyone who says it was an easy call is mistaken.


Hood did as he has been taught. It’s the Duke Way. Lord knows, it’s the ACC Way, the 11th commandment of that league being “Thou Shalt Taketh The Charge At All Times.”

But in my world it would have been a no-call, the basket would have been counted, and we’d have a tie game with 10 seconds left. Neither you, me, our children, or our children’s children will live long enough to inhabit such a world, I fear. This fundamental illogic will plague basketball for centuries to come.

And speaking of ending an illogical act that has crept into another of our games, I am here to lend my endorsement to newly adopted Rule 7.13, which will partially eliminate the dumbest play in baseball — the so-called “blocking the plate” maneuver.

However many ridiculous and avoidable collisions after the fact, Major League Baseball is adopting this experimental rule for the 2014 season, the gist of which is to make it illegal for a catcher to prevent any access to the plate when he does not have possession of the ball. Henceforth, if a catcher blocks the plate without the ball, the runner shall be called safe. If the runner initiates a collision, the umpire is supposed to call him out. Unfortunately, catchers will still be allowed to deny access to the plate if they do have possession of the ball.


This business of “blocking the plate” is even worse than “taking a charge.” No one is allowed to block access to first, second, or third base. But it has always been perfectly OK to block access to home? Catchers should have been taught to make swipe tags or side-saddle tags, or straddle tags, or call-it-whatever-you-please tags. They should never have been allowed to prevent physical access to the slab of rubber known as home plate.

But sometimes things in sports, no matter how illogical, are allowed to evolve into accepted practice, and after a while no one questions the essential logic, or lack of same. It’s not just a matter of preventing injury to both catcher and base runner. It’s a matter of simple common sense. Baseball isn’t football or hockey. It shouldn’t feel the need to present itself as some hyper-macho activity. Baseball players routinely demonstrate their courage by standing in the batter’s box against someone throwing a very hard round object upward of 100 miles an hour in their vicinity, sometimes in the vicinity of their head. That’s plenty macho.


That’s it. I’m ag’in’ “taking a charge” and I’m ag’in’ “blocking the plate.” I want to quit by accentuating the positive, so let the record show I am very much for both motherhood and apple pie. Now go forth and enjoy the rest of your day.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.