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Volume 21 No. 2
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TBT’s experiment: A new endgame

One of the more interesting sports experiments was tested over the weekend during the play-in games for The Basketball Tournament — a glorified pickup basketball tournament with a winner-take-all $2 million prize.

At the end of games, held over the weekend in Philadelphia, the game clock shut off at the first dead ball after the four-minute mark for the rest of the game. Officials set a target score by adding seven points to the leading team’s score. Whichever team got to the target score first won.

Tournament organizers made the move with a TV audience in mind. They are looking to keep a flow at the end of games, eliminating the late-game strategy of stopping the clock by intentionally fouling.

Because ESPN carried the play-in games live on ESPN3 and some tournament games on ESPN, The Basketball Tournament creator Jon Mugar discussed the rule changes with ESPN’s Burke Magnus, executive vice president of programming and scheduling, and Dan Ochs, director of content strategy.

“ESPN loves it — it was a main reason why they decided to carry all of our games live on ESPN3 for the play-in event,” Mugar said. “It sounded gimmicky at first, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s not like you’re lowering a 15-foot basket, like they did in the MTV ‘Rock ‘N Jock’ game back in the ’90s. There’s a reason for it, and it’s well thought out.”

This is not a gimmicky league. Former college players, many of whom play for pro leagues outside of the United States, compete in the league. The league uses a mix of NBA and NCAA rules.

As with most nascent leagues, it experiments with TV. It mikes refs and coaches and doesn’t shy away from picking up live conversations.

“From a viewership perspective and a production standpoint, we’ve really wanted to differentiate when it comes to audio,” Mugar said. “We’ll listen live to a coach and a general manager on the bench fighting about who should play and who should come out of the game.”

The new end-of-game rule only will be used for the play-in games. It will not be used during this year’s tournament. But it’s clear that Mugar is leaning toward using it for the entire tournament in 2018.

“One of the things I said to ESPN was that every game will end with a highlight — a made shot,” Mugar said. “If we put this into place next year, I guaranteed ESPN that there will be a game-winning shot for $2 million.”