Handball's Last Minute Problem (Part 2): John has good intentions… but gets his ‘solutions’ from the wrong sources!

It was always enjoyable to debate the finer points of the rules with John Ryan; this goes back to the days when he was a player and I was a referee. He always brought up interesting topics and had good intentions, but I could not always agree with his ideas for solutions. The same thing is happening on this occasion!

It is understandable that many of us, like I myself, get upset when we find out about an action like the recent one by the Hypo coach Prokop. We feel extremely frustrated and immediately begin to look for solutions in terms of prevention. But we must keep our sense of proportions. Almost none of us have ever heard about such action before, and, as I said at the time: ‘there is fortunately only one Prokop, and the risk for ‘copycats’ is very small’. We must take care of Prokop, and I hope EHF will remain firm in its decision. But it does not mean that we should immediately conclude that the playing rules are inadequate and seek to turn them upside down, doing more harm than good in the process.

In society at large, there is generally [u]one[/u] set of criminal laws that has to cover all kinds of situations, providing both deterrence and appropriate punishment for all kinds of actions. In sports, there are generally [u]separate[/u] rules for the game/competition and for the post-game disciplinary action. This is a tremendous advantage. For [u]normal[/u] game situations, that happen all the time, you keep clear and simple [u]rules[/u] that are internally consistent and follow a particular structure. For totally [u]abnormal and really drastic [/u]situations, you resort to [u]post-game punishments[/u].

One must also recognize that [u]each[/u] sport has very specific principles and structures for its rules that deal with the game situations. In handball, all in-game punishments are on the scale of warning (yellow card), 2-minute suspension, and disqualification (red card), and the main challenge is to determine what action goes with what punishment. Very specifically, in handball, the 7-meter-throw (the penalty shot) [u]is [b]not[/b] a punishment[/u]. A 7-meter-throw is instead exclusively the method to [u]restore a ‘clear scoring chance’[/u] that was illegally destroyed by an opponent.

Until about 30 years ago, we did have a situation in the rules that turned out to be disastrous and was therefore abolished: the referees could subjectively give a 7-meter also for ‘serious fouls’ on the guilty player’s own half of the court. So we have the experience to draw on, and it would be foolish to consider going in that direction again. Besides, coaches do [u]not[/u] exactly look to give the referees [u]more[/u] subjective power. They are constantly reminding us that we should try to move in the opposite direction.

So, John ignores too may realities and makes it sound too easy when he says: “if it works for basketball, I say try it for handball”. Despite a generally preference among handball people to keep handball’s identity, I have been successful over the years in ‘borrowing’ many ideas from basketball and other sports for rules changes in handball, but these changes invariably have involved technical aspects, e.g., player movements with or without ball, and the interactions between players. Here it is easy and sensible to ‘borrow’ from a sport like basketball, due to some real similarities.

But those similarities do [u]not [/u]exist in the area of punishments and handling of scoring chances. Basketball is totally one-dimensional in its resorting to ‘free-throws’ as the only method to deal with a multitude of aspects. In basketball you cannot punish by having a team play ‘4 on 5’. This means instead that an accumulation of quite innocent fouls in normal defensive action eventually get several players kicked out on a rather questionable basis, and the game suffers. Even worse, which John happily ignores, is that the foul/free-throw rules [u]do not[/u] work towards the end of a game. Very few players are so dumb or clumsy that they commit fouls of the nature that are defined as the ‘intentional’ foul described by John. Instead, they smartly commit fouls that are indeed quite intentional but disguised as normal fouls in normal situations, so they just lead to the normal free-throw. And what is better evidence of the basketball [u]free-throw not working as a deterrent [/u]than those many games that deteriorate into an awful free-throw shooting contest, because totally undeterred players repeatedly foul intentionally, hoping that the opponents will get rattled and have a bad free-throw shooting day.

John, surely that kind of nonsense cannot be what you want for handball. I wish you had grown up in Canada (or even Sweden…), because then you might have found it [u]more natural to turn to icehockey as the relevant comparison[/u]. Icehockey is very similar to handball in its way of dealing with fouls and destroyed scoring chances. All fouls and unsportsmanlike actions result in penalties for 2 or 5 minutes (or for 10 minutes or the rest of the game, although this does not affect the team strength on the ice). The rules for penalty shots and ‘clear scoring chance’ are, if anything, even tighter than in handball. I guess one could imagine, although I hope that I will never see it, that a coach reaches out onto the ice (perhaps with the help of a stick) and restrains an opponent when they have a ‘2 on 1’ breakaway, so that it turns into a ‘1 on 1’. (This would, in fact, be a situation very similar to that involving Prokop!) I trust that the good folks in NHL would know how to punish the offender very harshly afterwards, but they would get a good laugh if you suggested a penalty-shot as an additional or alternative deterrent!

John, your reaction is understandable and your intentions are good, because deterrence is important. But you look to the wrong source and therefore find inappropriate ideas for ‘solutions’. I hope our readers enjoyed the debate as much as I did!

Handball’s last minute problem (Part 1): Time to add the Technical Penalty Shot: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.873