Modifying Elam Ending to Better Fit Basketball

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Turn the clock off at the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter, add eight points to the leading team’s score, and the first team to reach that score — the target score — wins the game. 

This is the Elam Ending. Adopted by The Basketball Tournament in 2018, the Elam Ending has experienced bumps, bruises, criticisms and praises. Some fans love it, some hate it, others are impartial, but regardless of opinion, it naturally does its job.

The absence of a running clock at the end of the game subtracts the tendency of offenses to run out the clock and the need to play the foul game for defenses. Instead, teams have to play things out until the very end, making each possession important. Plus, there’s always a game-winning shot and some kind of drama at the end of games.  

However, it’s not perfect. Adding eight to the leading team’s score is great, but in a back-and-forth game with the clock off, the game will just end. In other words, if the score was 70-69 and the teams exchanged buckets throughout the Elam Ending, the trailing team would never catch up.

An addition to the Elam Ending would solve this. Instead of just setting the target score, an original target score would be determined as it is now, but the game would be win-by-four, similar to pickup ball. 

By doing this, defense will be the priority in the final possessions. With this method, if the score was 70-69, even the leading team would need to get at least one stop to win the game, and the trailing team wouldn’t be in a hole other than what it dug for itself.

That said, the win-by-four ideal doesn’t rule out the possibility of an ultra-dramatic ending. While it’s rare to see four-point plays, especially late in games, they could happen. Imagine your favorite player hits a three and gets fouled, and they are going to the line to take the free throw to win the game. 

In fact, it guarantees drama, and more importantly, takes away overtime, which is a problem in itself. Right now, the final two minutes of regulation are extremely exciting, but fans are left hoping that games don’t go into overtime, because to them, overtime means more timeouts, more stoppages and more commercials.

And they’re right. At least 80 percent of overtime is boring, not because the players aren’t playing hard, but because the players kick it into another gear towards the end, when the game is on the line for real. Mix timeouts in there, and fans would rather get an extra half hour of sleep and watch the highlights the next morning. 

Chances are most of the time, Elam Ending would only last a few possessions, but the longer it went, the more exciting it would get — making it a valuable asset for basketball at each of the high school, college and professional levels.

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