ACCORDING TO the NBA's current rules, a player is guilty of goaltending if he touches the ball while it is inside an imaginary cylinder that extends upward from the rim, unless the ball is "rolling off the rim" with "no chance to go in." Aside from being needlessly convoluted, the rule squelches exciting plays and only leads to unnecessary controversies.
When Blake Griffin (left) crashes in for a putback dunk, frame-by-frame replays from a camera stationed directly behind the basket can't always produce conclusive evidence that he first touched the ball outside the cylinder. Making that decision from 20 feet away in real time? Good luck. The league's murky standard simply asks too much of the referees.
The NBA acknowledged that inherent difficulty and added goaltending to the list of calls reviewable under instant replay for the 2012--13 season. But the system has a fatal flaw: Only assessed goaltending calls can be reviewed. If the referees miss a blatant offense by Dwight Howard, there's no remedy, even if that oversight determined the game's outcome.
Before retiring in 2014, former commissioner David Stern unsuccessfully advocated for FIBA's goaltending rule: In international basketball there is no cylinder, and the ball is live after it hits the rim. Offensive rebounders can fearlessly chase second-chance slams, and defenders can try to bat the ball off the rim.
With this simpler, more intuitive approach, players are rewarded for athletic, well-timed feats; referees have one less thing to manage; and the league office sidesteps disputes over blown goaltending calls. Most important, NBA fans are treated to more above-the-rim challenges and fewer monotonous video reviews. It's time to heed Stern's advice and ditch the cylinder.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED