Saturday’s, EHF Cup 2nd leg match between Goppingen and Creteil, ended in controversy during the waning seconds of the match. Creteil had won the first match in France by 4 goals 30-26. With 30 seconds remaining and trailing 23-19, Creteil needed to score one more goal to cut the lead to 3 and win by aggregate. (Note: Goppingen would advance on a 4 goal victory due to the away goals rule).
Creteil’s last offensive series was somewhat unorganized and Goppingen was able to disrupt it on 3 occasions with contact fouls. With 2 seconds remaining the last foul was called. Creteil player, Pierre-Yves Rigault, realizing that time was winding down quickly executed a direct 9 meter throw that surprised the goalie and hit the back of the net. One ref signaled a goal and Creteil started to celebrate. The other ref, however, said no and a 5-10 minute discussion which included table officials resulted in the goal not being allowed and Creteil being given 2 seconds back on the clock. With no element of surprise and a set defense in place the end result (no goal) was predictable.
Now, in defense of the officials, replays clearly showed that one Creteil player had not fully moved beyond the 9 meter line and several German players were clearly closer than 3 meters to the throw off. Still, as I think about it, it seems to me that these sorts of situations happen all too often and one simple rule changes could fix these end of match problems.
That rule change would be to simply adopt a basketball style stoppage of time for the last minute of every half. That would mean, if a whistle blows, the clock stops– immediately. The current system, by which officials decide to blow the whistle 3 times and stop the clock, is too wide open to interpretation. After a goal is made, the official has to make a decision as to whether the team is moving fast enough to half court to start play. After a foul, the official has to decide whether the offense is moving outside of the 9 meter line and the defense is moving 3 meters away from the ball fast enough. If we simply take this decision out of the hands of the ref, these controversial judgment calls won’t have to be made.
Not only would this eliminate these stall tactics, it would also eliminate the all too common ploy to simply foul the other team as the clock winds down, as the worst thing that can happen is a 2 minute penalty (assuming it’s not foolishly done in the act of shooting). The IHF now regards flagrant instances as “serious unsportsmanlike conducts,” but the remedy of not allowing a player to play in his next match is not very satisfying to the team that’s eliminated. (Nor is it working- every other EHF press release seems to be a disiplinary notice on this very subject.) And even if it’s not flagrant, do we really want to see a succession of 9 meter throw after 9 meter throw as the defense tries to run out the clock?
Will this change the game? Yes, the stoppage of the game clock will extend the last minute of a game slightly. I would estimate that it would add perhaps another minute in real time for close games. Teams also would no longer foul quite as much at the end of the game as the reward of taking another 5-10 seconds off the game clock would be gone. There still will be fouls, of course, but the defense’s only reward would be the opportunity to set back up on defense. And this reward will be offset by the offense getting an opportunity to run a set 9 meter play.
While, I suppose it could be argued that the current rules are fine the way they are. I just don’t see what’s so exciting and compelling about waiting to see if the ref thinks one team’s stalling has gone too far and deserves a stoppage of the clock. If this simple rule for clock stoppage was added, the ending seconds of a game would hinge more on the skill of the players, and less on the judgment of the referee.