It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over, March Madness Edition

5 min readMar 25, 2022


You’ve seen the ‘Lily in the Madness’ commercial where Lily Adams (a sweetheart) talks about how long the last 10 seconds of a game take. Review the call. Time out. Another time out. 5 second violation. Another time out. Oh, and upon review put another two seconds on the clock. And, not least of all, the lead is 7 and the team in the lead has the inbound.

Meant to be tongue in cheek but it’s totally true! We all remember the buzzer beaters and the upsets but a lot of these games are just DULL at the end. Gus Johnson couldn’t make them exciting! ‘Eh, coming up next your late local news and the Stephen Colbert has former US Senator Al Frankenstein’ I know Gus is not with CBS, work with me here!

So how do you solve this: Three words: The Elam Ending. This guy Nick Elam, a professor at Ball Stare University (the alma mater of David Letterman and Joyce DeWitt) came up with it and it is simple yet seismic: At the first stop with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter (or second half) you shut the clock off and then set a ‘target score’ (which could be sponsored by Target, dontchaknow) of the team in the lead plus 11. From that point on, the first team to hit the target score is the winner. There is literally no downside and all upside. This would be as seismic as the Fox Box or having ‘rules analysts’

‘But you’ll be denying us the joys of buzzer beaters!’ Your’re not wrong! How many times did we see Jalen Suggs hit that memorable game winner for Gonzaga last year against UCLA? They must have shown it 10 times. Kris Jenkins with the winner for Villanova against North Carolina in 2016? Great moments all, and they’ll never get old.

But they were the exception.

With the Elam Ending, you’re giving a team a chance. It may be 1 in 1,000. It may be 1 in a 1,000,000. But a chance is a chance. And think of this: Your team is down by 10 in a title game when the target score is set. Then they go on a 12–0 run. Tell me you’re not going to be sitting there on the edge of your seat watching that game with your heart in York throat. Put another way; EVERY game gives you a chance at equally thrilling finishes.

You’re also adding drama where there may not be one or it will be minimized. How about a team who’s down by 10 with the other team needing one point to win and they come back and win? You’re telling me that wouldn’t be fun?

One HUGE benefit is that the Elam Ending all but gets rid of intentional fouling at the end of the game.. When the other team needs two to win (in most cases) THE LAST thing you want to do is foul them intentionally. Why would you do that if all they had to do was hit two foul shots and win the game?

‘It’s just a stupid gimmick. It will never work’ Poppycock. Nick Elam said the appeal of this is that ‘every game ends on a made shot’ Sure, sometimes it will be anticlimactic. But THATS WHAT WE HAVE RIGHT NOW! If the lead is 20 with a minute to go, the game is effectively over. And if someone is up by 30 when the target score is set, yeah the game is likely over. Unless it’s not!

‘But that’s not always the way it’s been done.’ Child, please.

Additionally you’re also guaranteeing a broadcast window for a game. In most cases a game will not go longer than a regular game now. In the case of a down from 20 rally maybe a bit longer.

‘OK, Fine. But I would still say ending the game on a free throw is anticlimactic. How can you go from hitting a free throw to a pigpile and pyrotechnics?’ Not much different than we have now, again, where in most cases you let the clock run down and basically stand in place waiting for the horn to throw the ball up to the sky. But to mitigate that? Simple: fouls are one free throw and rhe ball. Effectively a technical. You can still win but it’s not as easy.

‘OK. But why not make it you have to not only exceed the target but win by 2? That would also serve to mitigate the game being decided by a free throw?’ Not bad; but the drama of deciding it by hitting the target score-THATS drama. Imagine again for a trip to the Final Four ‘NEXT SCORE WINS.’ Can you imagine the intensity of those watching at home? The players? The coaches?

Best of all if your team scores and wins, you’ll carry around those happy memories all your life. And if your team doesn’t win…Scoreboard Don’t Lie. I’m sure I’ll be able to point out 100 reasons why a team was or was not able to achieve victory before the final shot was made.

Again if implemented, this has a chance to be as seismic as the 24 second clock or as the 3 point line, both of which were considered gimmicky and radical but both of which have more than stood the test of time and both of which has made the game better and more fun.

The Elam Ending will do the same. We’ve seen the NBA experiment with it in the All Star Game, we have seen experimental leagues like The Basketball Tournament adopt it; hell the fictitious basketball league I run uses it, and it has definitely made games much more compelling, adding drama where there was none, and enhancing drama where there was already. Literally, THERE IS NO DOWNSIDE. You get rid of intentional fouls, you force teams to adjust their strategy to either pull away or catch up before the clock goes under five minutes. It opens up so many opportunities. And like anything else, coaches will need to adopt to it.

Basically it’s what Yogi Berra said, but applied to basketball. And while it’s not a panacea, it’s as damn close to one as I would see. Think about it and I think you’ll see it the same way.




“It is called a medium because it is very rare that it is well done.” — Ernie Kovacs