Handball’s Last Minute Problem (Part 3) No, Christer, post-game sanctions aren’t working and referees should be empowered and trusted

Christer’s response downplayed the problem and exaggerated the impact of the potential solution I’m advocating. First off, let’s reiterate what the “problem” is and acknowledge that it is indeed a real problem. The problem we are discussing here are actions taken by players and even coaches in the last few seconds of a match to disrupt/stop the team with possession of the ball from scoring by any means necessary. Christer maintains “that there is fortunately only one Prokop, and the risk for ‘copycats’ is very small.” While Prokop’s action was the most egregious one people have seen (thanks to youtube) at the end of a match, it’s by no means the first time it’s ever happen. Two commenters on our Facebook page were eye witnesses to similar actions, presumably by coaches.

What more commonly happens, though, is that players on the court perform the unsportsmanlike acts with the most popular method being tackling or hacking the player about to throw the ball in play at midcourt. The player is awarded a red card, but a few precious seconds run off the clock and the defense gets the opportunity to fully organize itself for the last second shot. The most recent occurrence was just two weekends ago when Laima Bernataviciute of Alcoa FKC stopped play simply to prevent one more goal. Predictably, the EHF penalized her with a one game suspension. http://www.eurohandball.com/article/012710/Suspension+of+Alcoa+FKC+player At least in this case it didn’t result in her club advancing to the next round. And as my earlier article http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.651 shows there are a lot of copycats out there and one game suspension penalties have done absolutely nothing to deter this “clever” end of game maneuver.

So, Handball observers you can only be in one of two camps. You can either prefer the current set of rules and punishments which in the end, obligates players to commit unsportsmanlike fouls at the end of a match or you can recognize that there is a problem and seek a better solution/deterrent. Count me as squarely in the latter camp!

A short refresher: The solution I’m proposing, the technical penalty shot, would be awarded when a player commits a foul which results in a direct red card. In addition to the two minute penalty, the team that was fouled would be awarded a penalty shot and then would also get possession of the ball after the penalty shot.

Clearly, if this solution was implemented, it would forever alter play at the end of a match. Gunnar Prokop certainly wouldn’t have stepped on the court to stop the Metz fastbreak. A “maybe” fastbreak goal would have been replaced with a more certain penalty shot. And even if the penalty shot was missed Metz would have yet another attempt to score. And this wouldn’t just stop ridiculous maneuvers like Prokop, but other more common unsportsmanlike fouls like tackling/hacking the player about to throw in the ball after a made goal.

Christer indicates that such a punishment would be out of proportion, but he doesn’t make much of a case to explain why that is. He ignores the fact that the current combination of red cards and post game disciplinary measures is having no effect and then make a misleading reference to basketball free throws. For clarity, let’s not confuse the concept of the technical foul with the standard foul in basketball. At the end of a basketball game it’s true that some matches degenerate into free throw shooting contests as the trailing team’s only hope is to foul the other team and hope they miss their free throws. But, as Christer points out these fouls are done within the standard norms of play. Players don’t tackle the opposition with unsportsmanlike fouls because the penalty is the more severe technical foul, which results in free throws and the opposing team still retaining possession. As I envision it, the same sort of thing would happen in Handball. Teams would still seek to foul players to stop play, they just wouldn’t tackle and hack players outside the standard norms of play. In other words, there would be proportional consequences for the level of infraction.

Christer also highlights another problem in that officials would have to make “subjective” calls as to whether certain fouls warranted a penalty shot. He even indicates that until about 30 years ago there was a similar provision in the rules that “turned out to be disastrous.” Although, he didn’t actually mention why it was disastrous I can only speculate that some officials made some questionable calls in the awarding of these penalty shots. This, of course, ignores the reality that officials make hundreds of calls a game which are already subjective and open to interpretation. Officials are human beings and sometimes they make the wrong call, even for inappropriate reasons. As a long time basketball player, I can remember being subjected to a ref or two who I felt was unfairly biased and a little too quick with the whistle when it came to calling a Technical foul. More notably, this has happened on occasion at higher levels, but it’s infrequent due to the fact that officials can be disciplined. Perhaps the most famous example is the abrupt end of NBA Official Jake O’Donnell’s career: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jake_O'Donnell.

Fortunately, referees abusing their power is the rare exception. Most players and coaches, in fact, will begrudgingly agree that they generally had it coming to them when they got the red card. The solution, therefore, is not to take away an official’s ability to control the game. And is it any real surprise that the coaches don’t want to see the return of the Technical Penalty Shot?—What a deal do they have now in Handball! Can you imagine basketball being played without “technicals”? Only in Bobby Knight’s fantasy world: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvRO2GE4x4M

No, the solution is instead to give officials another tool in their toolbox that can be used sparingly. Direct red cards are not a common occurrence and apart from the last few seconds of a match nobody ever desires one. And adding a “Technical Penalty Shot” will eliminate that crazy desire as well.

Handball’s Last Minute Problem (Part 1): Time to add the Technical Penalty Shot: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.873
Handball's Last Minute Problem (Part 2): John has good intentions… but gets his ‘solutions’ from the wrong sources!: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.875