The Dumbest Rules in Sports


by Craig “The Consigliere” Salner


This week kicks off one of America’s beloved sporting events – the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament a/k/a “March Madness” (I think I need to pay someone a licensing fee for using that phrase). In preparation for two weeks of intense gambling on these games, I did my typical 3-4 days of reconnaissance over the weekend, taking in various conference tournament games around the country.

My first batch of games since last April (aside from some scattered Gator games this year) reminded me of how many dumb rules exist in college basketball. That spawned the idea for this column, the 10 dumbest rules in sports. You will see a lot of college hoops rules included in this one…..


10) College Basketball- The Possession Arrow or the NBA- Jump Ball Rule

Ok, I admit I’m a little torn on this one. I feel like one of these rules is brilliant, the other is idiotic, and there’s no in-between. One has to be on the list, but which one? As you probably know, the possession arrow is college hoops’ counterpart to the NBA’s jump ball rule. On tie-ups in the NBA, the two players fighting for the ball compete in a jump ball. In college, a “possession arrow” is maintained at center court, the arrow switching back and forth after every tie-ball situation. (FYI- after the initial jump ball of the game, the possession arrow is given to the opposing team).

"Possession Arrow: check. Court burn, scratches and punched in the groin: check, check and check."

So, part of me thinks the college hoops rule is dumb because it can arbitrarily shift possession at a critical juncture in the game. But, in the NBA, Steve Nash is hardly “rewarded” if he ties up LaMarcus Aldridge and causes a jump ball! On the other hand, Dick Vitale hates the college possession arrow, and siding with him always seems bad. Ya know what? I’ve changed my mind. BOTH rules are dumb!

Every tied ball should be a jump ball, BUT each team should pick a player to compete in the jump ball. I just fixed two sports at once, don’t ever underestimate my power.


9) MMA- It’s Sheer Existence

I’m sorry, I know this is a controversial one, but if you’re into MMA, chances are you and I probably will have a tough time connecting. I love our military, totally enjoy well-made violent movies, and even enjoyed dignified combat like boxing until Don King ruined it forever. But two guys just beating the piss out of each other to the point where legs are getting snapped and ears are getting punched off? That’s just dumb. If you’re a girl that’s into this, I’d probably just as soon date a chain smoker or someone that casually drops f-bombs in front of my parents. Actually, if you’re in one of these three categories, there’s probably a fair chance you’re in all 3.


8 ) College Basketball- Timeouts May Be Called After Made Baskets

"NO!!! I didn't call 'Time Out', I called 'TIME IN'!!!!"

We see this rule come up all the time, particularly in games where teams are trying to make a comeback. After a made field goal or free throw, the scoring team can call timeout. Conversely, in the NBA, a team cannot call timeout on defense. (I believe even in inbounding situations, once the ref gives the ball to the inbound passer and whistles the game in play, the defending team cannot call timeout).

The idea that a team can basically dictate the other team’s tempo by calling timeout on defense is perverse to me. The only defense to this rule in my mind is that, except for the last minute of play, college basketball maintains a running clock after made field goals. In theory, a trailing team can save 5-10 seconds from running off by calling TO after a made bucket. A better way to solve this problem would be to get rid of the running clock rule, no?


7) Baseball- Barreling Over the Catcher is “Nothin’ But Good Clean Baseball!”

I hate for my debut column to make me out to be a no-fun guy, but how many injuries do we need to witness before the rules are changed? In case you don’t know the “rule,” basically if a runner is trying to score and the catcher is blocking the plate (with or without the ball), it’s basically “anything goes” between the runner and the catcher. In other words, because we let a catcher wear a Kevlar like vest and some shin guards, it’s all good that a 225-lb dude running full speed can just posterize him while he’s often looking the other way for the incoming baseball. (I intentionally left out the catcher’s mask since catchers are taught to remove the mask when a play at the plate is about to occur so that their panoramic vision is not impaired). These plays are violent outliers in a non-violent game.

"Oh, I'm sorry, was your face not ready for my shoulder?"


6) Golf- The Rules You Don’t Know About ‘Til You Just Got your Ass Disqualified

Look, I’m not gonna hate on golf; I enjoy me a Sunday at Augusta as much as anyone. The Ryder Cup is among my favorite television weekends of the year. But there is just an insane amount of minutiae in that little USGA rule book that is totally pointless in light of our current technology. We’ve seen players disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. I mean, if I can go to’s Shot Tracker and literally follow any player on the course shot-for-shot, chances are we don’t need to put scorekeeping on these fellas’ plates.

Or what about Dustin Johnson at the 2010 PGA Championship? Dude won!!! Except that after hitting a miracle shot off a patch of walkway trampled on by fans for 4 days, he was given a 2-stroke penalty because these little walkway dirt patches were considered “bunkers” during the tournament, meaning a player could not “ground” his club in advance of hitting.


5) NFL- Only 7 Officials on the Field

We’re all aware of the rule changes to reduce the violence in football (i.e. hits on defenseless receivers). In my view, this just results in officials instinctively chucking flags after every rough collision. During a MNF game last year, Jon Gruden had a rare bit of insight following a 15 yard flag after a perfectly legal pass break-up: “Ya know, Mike, the last time I checked, wide receivers weren’t allowed to take a fair catch out there!” Another unrelated point made by Gruden: “This guy Jake Ballard is a STUD! This guy will catch a pass for ya, he’ll throw a block for ya, ya know Jaws? I mean if he wasn’t stuck behind Kevin Boss the last few years, I swear we may be talkin’ about a New York Giants FIVE-peat by now!!”

(BTW I’d LOVE it if Coach Gruden did a crossover into the NBA and took over for Heat colorman Tony Fiorentino for one game: “I swear Eric, this guy Dexter Pittman gives you a lil’ bit of everything! He’ll give you illegal screens! He’ll give you over the back fouls! He’ll give you touch fouls on layups and dunks! This kid Dexter Pittman knows how to use his fouls!”)

Sometimes a late hit is called for...

Back to the rule…My theory is we just don’t have enough damned old men to see everything on the field. We need at least another 2 guys out there so that we don’t have swivel-headed zebras hear a violent collision, turn to see the aftermath, and hurl a game-changing 15 yard flag at it. Does the NFL have enough tens of billions to afford a few extra refs? Let’s move on shall we?


4) Baseball- Unlimited Pitcher-Catcher Visits

Most of us baseball fans know that, barring an injury situation, a manager or pitching coach is only allowed one visit to the mound per inning per pitcher. On the second visit, the pitcher must be removed from the game. However, catchers can go visit pitchers an unlimited amount of times per game. In the 2009 World Series, Yankee catcher Jorge Posada infamously visited pitcher C.C. Sabathia 8 times in a single inning.

Memo to baseball – you’ve already lost my wife as a viewer, and if you let this crap go on, you’re gonna lose me too!! 2 visits in an inning from the catcher, no mas!


3) Soccer- Timekeeping

I’m not just an ignorant meathead who rips Soccer for no reason. I actually really enjoy international soccer and take in about as much European league soccer as I do regular season college basketball. I LIKE soccer, ok!? I can even tolerate the fact that the clock runs upward rather than downward unlike virtually every other sport I’ve ever watched. My mind is open to different ideas. What I can’t take, however, is the amorphous concept of “injury time,” where soccer refs arbitrarily add time to each half (usually 2-3 minutes), then usually end the game at “approximately” the amount of injury time added. In reality, the trailing team almost always gets to complete an ongoing attack before the refs call a match.

A timed game should always have a definitive conclusion. Imagine Michael Jordan faking Byron Russell out of his shorts, drilling a 22 footer, turning around for a fist pump, while Marv Albert yelps, “The game is still going! Malone hits a cherry-picking Ostertag!! YES!!! Utah WINS!!!!” Wow, talk about some fertile ground for Tim Donaghy-esque antics! Yet I digress….

Easy solution here. Stop the damned clock on dead ball situations like injuries, free kicks, corner kicks, penalty kicks, etc. Think of all the nonsensical stalling you’d get rid of in soccer. Sure, players would still act like Sonny Corleone getting shot on the causeway to draw fouls, but perhaps we’ll see a few less sequences of 1) player writhing for 30 seconds; 2) stretcher squad coming on the remove the player; 3) player sprinting back on to the field like Seabiscuit 30 seconds later.


2) College Basketball- Team Fouls Carry Over into Overtime

"Dont foul now!!! How do you not know this already? That's it, time for a new school..."

This rule is by nature obscure since it only arises in overtime. To give a brief overview, “team fouls” are all fouls committed by a team on defense or on loose balls. In college hoops, team fouls are counted each half. On a team’s 7th team foul per half, the opposing team is in the “bonus,” which means all team fouls give the opposing team a chance to go to the foul line for a “1 and 1” (unless it’s a shooting foul, in which 2 shots are awarded). On the 10th foul, teams enter the “double bonus,” where all team fouls grant the opposing team 2 free throws.

So the rule at issue is that when a game goes into overtime, team fouls carry over so that a team already in the bonus or double bonus from the 2nd half remains in the bonus in OT from the 1st foul on. This rule is so disruptive and mystifying. For example, in the NBA, where team fouls are counted by quarter rather than by half, fouls re-set in overtime, and free throws are not rewarded until the 4th team foul of OT. But in college, teams reach the double bonus in regulation in about 95% of all close games, so every over the back rebounding foul, every hand check foul, every foul where 2 guys are diving for a loose ball, immediately gives the other team 2 free throws.

At some point this weekend you’ll see this rule come about and be like “WTF??”


1) NFL- Overtime

While college basketball and football tend to have some backwards rules compared to their professional counterparts, this is one example where the college game clearly got it right. Is there anything more intense and exciting than a college football overtime? Meanwhile, the NFL, perhaps the most successful entertainment industry in our country, stubbornly sticks to making a coin toss and kickers the most important parts of overtime.

What’s your counter to an argument for changing NFL OT rules to college OT rules? That it could take too long which exposes players to injury?

Let me remind you of something we all just learned. These millionaire morons are trying to injure each other for $1,500 bounty prizes. You want to screw up a thrilling game to protect them? You need to come up with a better reason, like a 4-hour Ravens-Steelers game would cut into your chance to catch the entire Browns-Seahawks game at 4 pm.

"I know you said Tails, Mr. Bettis, but, what the hay, Lions ball!"


Be sure to follow Craig on Twitter at @CSalner

One Comment

  1. Great debut Craig! I think rules # 3 and 4 are great suggestions. For #1, I like the NFL’s playoff overtime rules — the college system is exciting but a little playground-ish.

    I totally disagree with you on #7 though. The catcher should only be blocking the plate if he has the ball and is able to brace himself, Posey (for example) was injured because he didn’t field the ball cleanly and let up while still in Cousins’ path. What is the baserunner supposed to do if the catcher is in the way? Slide feet first into the catcher and wreck a knee/ankle, or slide head first and get a hand/shoulder/head smashed? Most injuries in these type of collisions are accidents, I think Pete Rose / Ray Fosse -type collisions are rare…