I have serious issues with basketball. Not playing basketball, per se — although my jump shot could admittedly use some work — I have issues with the sport’s basic structure. It’s a sport with too many rules.

I have serious issues with basketball. Not playing basketball, per se — although my jump shot could admittedly use some work — I have issues with the sport’s basic structure. It’s a sport with too many rules.


All sports have rules, of course. You can’t hold in football. You can’t cross-check in hockey. You can’t look at the umpire sideways in baseball. Sports need some rules, otherwise it would just be a bunch of funny-dressed people throwing things at each other.


But unlike the other three major sports, basketball is defined by the enforcement of its rules. A sport that places hulking athletes in close proximity and then says they’re not allowed to touch each other is going to have serious enforcement problems.


And so it does. What’s called a foul one time down the floor is ignored the next. The number of steps permitted before a travel seems to be a function of the referee’s mood. And the difference between a charge and a blocking call is less about whose feet were planted when, and more about the momentum of the game.


There’s a great scene in "The Naked Gun" where Leslie Nielsen, drunk on his new-found power as an accidental baseball ump, becomes increasing demonstrative in his "Strike!" calls. It’s a hilarious reminder of how the axiom "power corrupts" can apply to sports officiating. But when applied to a sport like basketball, where a literal interpretation of the rules could loosely be translated as "touch = foul," the basketball referee becomes Caesar at the Colosseum.


"Thumbs up, I decreeth a charge. Thumbs down, verily, a block."


Too many rules make the basketball referee too powerful, too able to make the game about him rather than the athletes.


As a society, I worry that our canon of laws has grown so thick, it’s turned our law enforcers from football officials, asking "Did that transgression affect the outcome of the play?" into basketball referees who have the ability to call a foul, er, write a ticket to anyone at pretty much any time.


Most cops and meter maids and building inspectors are good people who understand that the "why" of a law is more important than the letter. But with state legislatures and city councils adding new rules all the time, it gives those bad apples among enforcement officials – the disgraced-gambling-referee Tim Donaghys of the world — the ability to adversely effect the lives of good-intentioned citizens.


CNN reported that 40,000 new laws went into effect around the country on Jan. 1. Forty-thousand! Were there really 40,000 problems that needed legislative answers? Were there 40,000 new reasons to control people’s behavior?


Of course there weren’t. But because politicians want to seem like they’re "making a difference," we’re left with 40,000 new opportunities to transgress the government.


We need rule-makers and political leaders who free-up government employees to focus on the things that matter — the flagrant fouls in our society, if you will. Because a referee who’s busy with ticky-tacky transgressions is less able to address the plays that actually change the game. And when there are so many laws that people are constantly worried about the next whistle-blow, it makes life like basketball: a slog.


NATE STRAUCH is a reporter with the Herald Democrat. Email him at nstrauch@ heralddemocrat.com.