How Do Fans Feel About Increased Fouling? A Q&A with a VCU Superfan Chris CrowleyPosted by Kenny Ocker on November 12th, 2013
After college basketball had spent the greater part of the last two decades getting more physical and watching scoring decline, the NCAA decided to act this past offseason by re-emphasizing rules against hand-checking and other physical perimeter play in an attempt to speed the game up and increase scoring. For some teams, this increased emphasis will have an outsized impact, none more than VCU. The Rams’ smothering, pressing Havoc defense used to be something nobody wanted to go to war with, leading the nation in steal percentage for each of the last two seasons, according to KenPom.com. To get some perspective on the rule changes, I talked with Rams superfan Chris Crowley, known as VCU Pav throughout his fan base (and most of the state of Virginia, who he frequently trolls on Twitter). A former VCU equipment manager who has crossed the country before to watch his team play, Crowley’s game day ensemble includes ram horns and a cape.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
Rush The Court: How long have you been a VCU fan? How did that start?
Chris Crowley: I started out as a manager for the basketball team from 2001 to 2004, and then decided I needed to concentrate on class a little bit more, so I decided to quit managing after my junior year. That was right around the time the Rowdy Rams (the student fan organization) were getting founded, so I jumped in with them – they were getting restarted; they were originally founded in the 1980s. We got restarted around the 2003-04 season, and I joined them in ’04-05, and the rest is history.RTC: Where were you when you found out about the rule changes?
CC: I was probably on the Internet sometime this summer, which is when they first started being publicized. I hadn’t heard about it in any sort of official capacity. I don’t remember when the meetings were when they really released they were going to be the point of emphasis for this season. But you know, same way everybody else does these days.
RTC: What did you think of the change in the points of emphasis when you first heard about them?
CC: They hurt a team like VCU, where we use scrappy defenders who have no problem digging – probably more than they should have, for fans of our opponents – to disrupt your comfort zone. It’s not just about getting steals; it’s about making you uncomfortable with the ball in your hands. That’s Havoc: It’s not just speeding up a team and getting in passing lanes, it’s making your opponents uncomfortable. So anything we can legally do to make our opponent less comfortable, whether it’s making your point guard relinquish control of the ball over to a power forward who ends up having to bring the ball across half-court – which allows us to maybe get a trap in later – anything we can do like that is a competitive advantage for VCU.
They sort of threw a VCU style of play a bone by saying the 10-second violation will occur with the shot clock, because there was more than once last year where the clock’s obviously at 24 and they’ve obviously had the ball in bounds for 10 seconds, but the referee for whatever reason is half a second behind. But that’s the difference in one possession a game where that might happen, versus six or seven possessions a game where what would have been a steal or at least a contested turn becomes a foul. My initial reaction was one that it’s an emphasis they’re putting in place because of teams like VCU. If you see a team like VCU that is learning how to not necessarily take the blue-chip players, but the next level of players who are every bit as good but willing to work that much harder and work a little more different, they’re the ones being penalized because they’re the ones who have figured out “this is how I’m going to defend a blue-chip player. They don’t like being defended”. I can see the NCAA saying, “Well, we like the little guys to make it about as far as the Sweet Sixteen, but we need our blue-chip teams in the Final Four, so we’re going to start at the beginning of the season by making sure that teams like VCU who would use that style of play to their advantage, we’ve got to try and slow them down a little bit.”
RTC: How does it feel to have a target on your back like that?
CC: It’s new! We’ve always been the team that others forget about. It’s never been a target. You can think back to all the 2011 press asking whether we deserved to get in or not, all the way back to 2004, when we were a 13 seed playing a 4-seed Wake Forest team and it was just a happy-to-be-there situation and we’re going to go out and play as hard as we can and see what happens. We ended up losing by one point to Wake Forest with Chris Paul on that team. That was a pretty solid team 10 years ago now. It’s been a long time since I’ve been part of a team that was favored to win to the point where you start thinking about what teams are doing to plan against VCU, or what is the organization doing to plan against VCU. We’re going into a situation (today) where we are ranked 14th – not that preseason rankings mean anything – and going against the 24th-ranked team in the country, Virginia. I don’t think that there’s ever been a situation where we’ve had two Virginia teams playing each other when both were ranked, let alone when VCU is coming in as the higher-ranked team.
RTC: Now that you’ve seen the emphasis changes in action, what did you take from that? (I know it’s one game.)
CC: Part of it is, it’s hard to tell. I’ve seen it in action for an exhibition game against a Division II team and then Illinois State, which is a rebuilding Division I program. In the first game, we moved our feet and I didn’t see a big difference between last year and this year. Now, you could say that we actually backed off a bit – you don’t really want to be pressing the ever-livin’ bejeebus out of a Division II team when you’re already up by 30, that’s just rude. The next game, if their plan was to try and speed up the game and increase fluidity of the game by having players not defend, they’re doing the opposite. When you get a foul called at least once a minute, you’re shooting twice as many free throws as last year. That doesn’t speed up the game.
I was laughing with my friends because VCU for years always started games at 7:30 p.m. because we could. We have a working-class fan base, and you want to give them a chance to get off work, get dinner, get their family and come to the game. Now, because of TV deals, all of our games are at 7, half an hour earlier, but we still get out at the same time because all these games are taking half an hour longer because teams are shooting free throws and referees are using the monitor more often. We spent five minutes waiting at the last game because the shot clock hadn’t turned on. Does it really make a difference whether the shot clock gets set to 32 or 31 seconds? You don’t need five minutes for that. It’s slowing the game down and causing games to take longer, and that’s not good for young fan bases with family members. That’s fine for college students who don’t have an 8 a.m. class, but it’s not fine for most people. Maybe their goal is that the end result is that teams will foul less and will improve the flow of the game and make it a little more Naismith – you know, where they couldn’t touch anybody – but from what I can tell right now, it’s having the opposite effect.
RTC: Do you think these changes are going to help teams that play slower?
CC: Yes, to an extent. It’s less about speed of play and more about style of play. There are teams who don’t play a full-court, run-the-ball-up press, run as fast as they can to speed up the game, but play a hard-nosed, in-your-grill defense. Drexel played that way out here on the East Coast for a number of years. They will defend you without an inch of space from 27 feet out. Teams like that are who it will hurt, teams who are trained to be ballhawks, to be really disruptive wherever they are. As opposed to a team like VMI a couple of years ago who didn’t really defend, but would get out and run. It’s an offensive, fast team, but it’s not a team that would be affected by these rules. In fact, some fast teams will benefit by it because they’ll want to run more because there won’t be as much defense.
RTC: From the sounds of it, VCU’s on the bad end of both parts of that. They play faster – just by the nature of that, there are more chances to foul. Also, the style of play they have makes them more vulnerable.
CC: I would agree with that. The more times you’re defending, the more opportunities the referees have to call a foul. It’s basically going to come down to VCU’s ability to adapt. You can’t get a steal out of a trap. You’ve got to focus on the disruption. You’re not going to get a steal and a dunk, whereas before we got a lot of offense out of a steal and a dunk. VCU’s pinnacle play last season was less than a minute into the Butler game, where Briante Weber gets a steal and gets a dunk. This season, the referee probably calls that a foul, because he’s looking for a foul. The guy got stripped and he fell down; if I see a guy do that this year, maybe I automatically blow my whistle and all of a sudden, VCU’s highlight-reel play for all of last season never happens.