KNOXVILLE, TENN. >> Coaches are still getting accustomed to a new NCAA rule that restricts them to calling timeouts only when the ball is dead. The new wrinkle has produced some interesting scenarios down the stretch of close games.
Whenever a ball is given to a player, it becomes live and only players have the power to call timeouts. Coaches have to wait until a basket is made or play stops. Coaches can signal for timeouts while the ball is live, but under the rule that took effect this year, referees will only award the timeout if a player acts on that request.
The rule change has led to criticism from some coaches who don't like having responsibilities taken away from them.
"I just can't imagine anybody who's in the role of leadership would vote on something that would limit their ability to be that leader that they're being paid to be," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "I never understood it. I still don't like it."
Akron's Keith Dambrot, the chairman of the NCAA rules committee, said the rule was established in part to prevent the confusion that arose as coaches tried calling timeouts from the bench when teams were fighting for a loose ball.
"It really put (officials) in a bind as to who called the timeout, did the team have the ball when they called the timeout," Dambrot said. "It was difficult on them."
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes says he would have understood prohibiting coaches from calling timeouts under those circumstances. He just doesn't see why coaches can't call timeouts when their teams are simply bringing the ball up the floor to start a possession.
Barnes cited a loss at Georgia Tech in which he shouted from the bench that he wanted a timeout, but none of his players could hear him.
"I know early in the year, I thought the fact we couldn't call timeouts ourselves hurt us in a couple of games," Barnes said. "Early, I think players need all the help they can get from coaches. We maybe could have given ourselves a better chance to win a couple of those games early if we could have used our timeouts (as coaches) when we wanted to."
Barnes and Kennedy aren't the only coaches who disagree with the rule.
"They said, 'Well, you know the officials had a tough time knowing if it was the coach calling (the timeout), or one of the players or a fan,"' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said earlier this season. "We're paying them enough money. They ought to be able to figure out things like that."
Dambrot and Fairfield's Sydney Johnson, another member of the rules committee, say they haven't heard much griping about the new rule from coaching colleagues now that teams have had time to adjust to it. Dambrot indicated many of the worries came beforehand.
"Coaches are smart," Dambrot said. "What happens is they adapt and adjust to rules. You practice it. You have two or three guys you kind of give the authority to call the timeout. You train guys. From that perspective, I haven't heard too much complaining, and a lot of people really were against it when it came out."
The new rule can have quite an impact when a game's on the line. Sure, a coach can still ask one of his players to call a timeout. That player still might not notice him or could ignore him.
Xavier coach Chris Mack tried calling a timeout late in a tight game at Providence last month. Xavier's J.P. Macura instead kept playing and sank a critical 3-pointer that helped seal the victory. After the game, Mack quipped: "Thank heavens for the new rules."
Mack says he has no complaints with coaches being prohibited from calling timeouts when the ball is live. And he believed that even before the Providence game.
"I know people want to put the spotlight on J.P.'s big shot, but it doesn't change my opinion of the rule at all," Mack said.
Kennedy noted that his team also benefited from the new rule in a victory over Georgia earlier this season.
"We were down one with about 10 seconds to play," Kennedy said. "There was an official in front of me. I said I wanted to get a timeout and try to set up a play. He looked at me — he was a veteran official — and he says: 'Coach, you can't call it. You have to get one of your players to call it,' which obviously I knew, but I'm just reacting to the things we've always done. By that time, (Ole Miss guard Stefan) Moody had thrown the ball, had gotten it back and was on his way to shooting a layup."
But that hasn't changed the way he feels about the change.
"It probably saved me on one occasion," Kennedy said, "but I still am not a fan of the rule."