An obscure stat, a mysterious inventor, and also the Louisville crew the redefined university basketball statistics


It all began last January in the assistant media section at the Dean Smith facility in Chapel Hill. It was halftime the Carolina–NC State, a game the Tar Heels would certainly go ~ above to success 74-55. A UNC staffer came by with the first-half push packet, and also one item of statistical minutia caught my eye. Listed below the ingredient anyone might treatment about, in a corner, I check out the indigenous “Dead-Ball Rebounds.”

I turned to the reporters around me. “What’s a dead-ball rebound?”

A few theories emerged, no one of which to be correct. The dead-ball rebound verified to it is in an arcane, minor statistic; something that the median fan had no reason to recognize or understand. Yet that doesn’t median it doesn’t matter. The stat helps cast light top top the background of basketball statistics, and also tracing that invention back to the 1960s led me to a group of guys who redefined the method people think around the game, and also revealed the origins of every little thing we know about college basketball statistics.

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Let’s begin with a guy named Al Benninger and this 1981 write-up from the reading Eagle out of Reading, Pennsylvania. The an essential passage reads:

Benninger insurance claims responsibility for the invention of speed stats, which are quickie stats compiled during broadcasts throughout times the end and also distributed to TV and also radio broadcasters; the record of steals; and the production of the dead-ball rebound, i m sorry is a rebound provided to the non-shooting team as soon as the very first of a two-shot foul is to let go …

“With the dead-ball rebound, we think it paints a truer picture of the game. Now, dead-ball rebounds execute not count towards team rebounds. The NCAA uses it (in the tournament), but it’s a hard thing come sell. No every college wants to do it.”


What Is a Dead-Ball Rebound?

Steve Kirschner is one associate strong director at north Carolina, but his basketball career started as a student in the first year at UConn in 1984, when he retained stats because that the men’s team. He described the 3 most usual ways to get a dead-ball rebound, which never count toward a team’s total.


1. A miss on the an initial foul shoot of a two-shot foul, or the first two shots the a three-shot foul. In this case, the attack team gets attributed with a dead-ball rebound, because it gets the round back. “It’s just an accountant’s correction,” Kirschner explained.

2. A player shoot the ball and also it bounces up and also hits the shooting clock. That’s a dead-ball rebound to the defense.

3. A player shoot the ball, it bounces turn off the rim, and also the buzzer for the fifty percent or video game sounds prior to either team controls the ball. Dead-ball rebound.

“It makes an ext sense than you think,” he said. “The point is that every missed shot has to have a rebound. And to be able to balance package score, there needs to it is in a rebound for every miss. That method you understand the box score add to up. It’s type of like a geometry proof, whereby the left side has to equal the right side.”

Essentially, Kirschner said, it aided prevent failure or fraud. If a crate score didn’t balance, you couldn’t guarantee the accuracy of the statistics. This was particularly problematic prior to the mid-’80s, as soon as the an initial rudimentary computer systems were introduced. With modern technology, the computers automatically register dead-ball rebounds in ~ the appropriate times and show an error message if the statistician forgets, for this reason there’s hardly ever an worry with shedding count. But before dead-ball rebounds, it was tempting for a lazy statkeeper to resolve the missed shooting deficit through crediting players with much more rebounds 보다 they deserved. Dead-ball rebounds prevented the fraud.


Al Benninger is now 86, and he still stays in Kentucky. He runs a 62-and-over softball league and also attends nearly every Cardinals house game. In fact, he’s one of those men who maintains a singular devotion come his school,Louisville, course of ’57, after serving in people War II through the Navy.

">1 and estimates that he’s missed about “five or six home games in 52 years.”

“It’s a goofy story,” he told me. “My wife and I got season tickets in 1959, and when we had our son a year later she couldn’t go to the games. So a girlfriend of mine to be on the stats crew, and he says, ‘You don’t should buy tickets next year. I gain to take one human in totally free each game; you deserve to sit at the press table with me.’ i said, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful.’ the said, ‘You don’t have to do anything."”

That promise lasted till the very first home game of the season. Who on the crew play hooky, and also Benninger was enlisted come help. He learned top top the fly, and six years later, when Louisville’s sports details director stop to become a teacher, Benninger became the head the the stat crew.

As that turned out, Benninger to be a gifted statistician and also a natural leader. He started recruiting his very own team (seven solid at the time, though many computer-aided crews today generally use four). 3 of his men came native Lincoln earnings Life Insurance, whereby Benninger spent many of his career as an executive. The others contained a GE foreman named Jim Tharp and also a math teacher called David Isaacs.

Soon, the crewI was told by one more member the the team loosely described themselves as “The World’s biggest Stat Crew,” and also Benninger was dubbed “Chief.”

">2 discovered itself through a substantial opportunity — the 1969 final Four pertained to Louisville’s flexibility Hall. In ~ the time, the organize school’s stat team was assigned to the competition games. However Benninger and his crew were so great in ’69 — and, more importantly, so quick — that when he jokingly asked the NCAA if the group could travel to college Park, Maryland, for the tournament the adhering to year, it take it him seriously.

“And every year,” Benninger recalled, “the NCAA said, ‘See you following year?"”

“It wasn’t just a job,” said Jim Tharp, 83, who began working with Benninger in 1961 after lock met at a church function. “U the L payment us, however it wasn’t much. Everybody liked the game, and also the NCAA told us we to be the best stat crew they’d ever before seen.”

Benninger went on to job-related 40 final Fours until he retirement in 2006, and also the Louisville statkeepers room still the main crew that the last Four. Benninger’s crew was so good, in fact, the it was preferred to work-related with the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels once the franchise began in 1967 and until it folded in 1976. It was so an excellent that as soon as the Miami football stats crew bailed top top the Orange bowl in 1987 after ~ the Hurricanes make the Fiesta Bowl, the metro Conference request Team Benninger to take it over. (It stuck approximately for nine years, ideal up till the game moved to dolphin Stadium and also began utilizing an NFL team.) Today, Benninger enjoys the Louisville location of “statistician emeritus,” and watches games from his courtside perch.

On march 20, 1969, north Carolina played Purdue in the very first game the the 1969 final Four. It to be a blowout; Purdue winner 92-65 ~ above the toughness of rick Mount’s 36 points.The scorekeeper place is separate from the stat crew; he’s considered an main who keeps monitor of fouls, substitutions, and also the total score, and also sits at facility court.

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Benninger had actually saved his stat sheets for an ext than 40 year … till a few months ago, once he threw them all out. Luckily, Steve Kirschner, UNC’s PR man, hasn’t tossed the school’s records. It’s top top Kirschner’s copy whereby you can see it, in the reduced right-hand corner listed below the team stats, set apart in a various font: the native “Dead round Rebounds.” The typewriter responsible for adding the new stat, in addition to the handwriting on the sheet, belonged come the mathematics teacher — David Isaacs.

By Benninger’s standards, Isaacs is young in ~ 70, and also inexperienced through 43 year of company (1966-09) together a statistician and also scorekeeper for Louisville and the Colonels.

“I’m not Al Benninger in a lot of ways,” the told me. “Al is a basketball nut. The video game has adjusted so much, and I acquired too old to save up v it, however I loved working.”

Like Benninger, Isaacs is a Louisville alum; he i graduated in 1965, the year Wes Unseld averaged 35 points and also 23 boards for the freshman team. He was to teach math in ’66 once the play-by-play typist for the varsity team quit; Isaacs was picked to to fill the role. He operated in the capacity till 1980, authorized the Louisville crew for residence games, the Colonels beat, and, that course, the last Four. Once the NCAA realized that home scorekeepers because that the last Four would certainly inevitably battle to keep up through Benninger’s crew, Isaacs took the job, too.On this point, Harvey Pollack, the legendary 91-year-old statistician that has functioned for the NBA since its start in 1946, strenuously disagreed with Isaacs. Follow to Isaacs, Pollack sent out him a entirety folder’s precious of letters and also claimed the nobody would ever before use the NCAA manual. I dubbed Pollack. Our 10-minute chat ended this way: “I have actually no idea why anybody also calls the a dead-ball rebound. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about a video game in i m sorry they also mentioned the words ‘dead-ball rebound.’ It’s what’s known as inconsequential. All right? all right, I want to clock TV now.”

">4 He stayed on until 1997, and worked together Louisville’s scorekeeper until 2009, as soon as he retired.

But Isaacs was more than just a statistician. Through a collection of interesting coincidences, the man who crossed the Ohio flow in 1970 come live and also teach in adjacent Jeffersonville, Indiana, became the one to codify — and, in part cases, design — the college basketball statistics us take because that granted today.

Starting in 1972, Isaacs began corresponding v Lou Spry, the NCAA’s assistant executive director for championships. He’d been functioning the final Four for four years, and also was pushing because that the production of a statistician’s hand-operated for basketball come unify the diverse opinions and also interpretations approximately the game.

“It was like cook County, Chicago, in ~ voting time,” Isaacs said. “We had actually Wes Unseld play for Louisville, and also the continuous joke was the if there was a rebound and also you didn’t understand who rather to give it to, you offered it come Wes. Yet we didn’t comprise rebounds. In ~ some other places, they had much more assists than there were shots made, and more rebounds than missed shots.”

In June 1972, Isaacs wrote earlier to Spry,The mark next to the “5” in the Indiana “dead balls” section on the sheet listed below is a check, not a “7.”

">5 pitching the stat hands-on again and asking for authorization to write it through the assist of the Louisville crew.

Later that year, a two-page sheet of NCAA rules interpretations came out because that the 1972-73 season. It to be a cluttered and complex mess.Here’s web page 2.

">6 Isaacs and also others protested, and also in November 1972 national Collegiate sports Services proclaimed its intention to have actually a hand-operated ready for the adhering to season. Isaacs composed a four-page letter to SpryHere are page 2, page 3, and also page 4.

">7 in December picking apart the present interpretations, and angled for a hand in devising the manual.

“I want to go v it, suggest by point, due to the fact that some that the interpretations have actually us a little ‘shook up,"” he wrote. “Maybe we are taking ourselves as well seriously. Maybe we space overestimating ours opinions, possibly we expect to have an ext influence 보다 we have to have, yet we execute feel the we have a fairly great ‘feel’ for determining what is the fairest point to do that is still regular with scoring rules.”

Last, Isaacs took issue with the lack of any note around dead-ball rebounds. “The critical note concerning team rebounds does not identify Dead round Team rebounds … We do record Dead sphere Team Rebounds. Us once also wrote a summary of what they were to provide our neighborhood press.”

When candid Barning in ~ NCSS in new York created to Isaacs in January 1972 after ~ getting copies of his letters, that complimented Isaacs top top his passion and ideas, and wrote, “our following step, i personally hope, is come come up through a dead ball classification to get rid of cheap team rebounds.” He wrote that the was grateful to them, and also hoped to usage them as consultants, at least, till he can speak “from a an ext authoritative position.”

Isaacs responded through gratitude. “We room thrilled at your appreciation and also support. Despite we had hoped to have a component in this project, ns don’t think any type of of us really expected that opportunity … ns am a high school math teacher that will more than likely be unemployment this summer, and would it is in interested in working throughout that time … in general, I carry out not think that is feasible that you can ask more of us than we would be willing to do.”

In February, Barning wrote and also asked him to contact collect as shortly as possible ahead that a presentation collection to be made at that year’s championships in St. Louis. Isaacs would finish up play a crucial role. The Louisville crew come to job-related its 5th straight last Four, and Isaacs to be on hand when the hands-on was official pitched. Later that day, a handwritten note came from Jack Waters, the chairman of the NCSS, asking Isaacs to fulfill with the Sunday night in the chase Park Plaza Hotel. There, he told Isaacs that the pitch to be approved, and also gave him one last piece of news.

“I was still flying once I returned to my room,” Isaacs said. “I to be overwhelmed that ns was actually going to compose the manual.”

Isaacs spent the summer of 1973 writing, v input from the remainder of the Louisville crew, and the result, published on November 1, began to change how statistics were perceived.

“There had actually been a football manual,” stated Isaacs, “and I borrowed from the means they laid the end the concept. There to be certain simple interpretations you offered as guidelines. I may have created something the wasn’t in there, but I had actually a rationale for each rule. Ns put, ‘Here’s the rule, currently here’s the philosophy.’ since if you know the viewpoint of the rule, it makes it a lot easier to use the rule.”

The NCAA provided Isaacs complimentary rein, and also a press release sent in November 1973 outlined the transforms made in the very first edition. Among the finer points:

• “For the first time, words ‘turnover’ has a definition, and will be supplied rather 보다 ‘error’ to define a team’s mistakes.” The turnover, Isaacs explained, might only be fee to the offense when it sacrificed a scoring chance. “You might say that transforming the round over come the enemy is the ‘Cardinal Sin."” (The 1975 final Four stat sheets were the first that existed without the word “error” provided anywhere, and it has actually never reappeared.)

• Dead-ball rebounds became an official part of the game. “The difference between Team Rebounds and Dead ball Rebounds will be important due to the fact that only Individual and also Team Rebounds will be supplied to rank teams nationally. Both of this involve some ability on the component of the team, whereas Dead ball Rebounds carry out not.”For example, attack goaltending violations led to a ar goal miss out on for the offending team, but not the player, nevertheless of whether the ball went in … neither of which do sense, together Isaacs spicy out, if the goal to be to keep an exact measure of shooting percentage. In the same vein, a complimentary throw shooter that committed a roadway violation to be charged through a missed effort (again, regardless of whether the round went in), while the team was charged through a miss out on if a player on the blocks committed the violation.

It got worse. Dunking was banned indigenous 1967 to 1976 in the NCAA, and the rule sheet proclaimed that any player who dunked and had the basket nullified should, again, it is in charged v a missed ar goal attempt. Also, the modern an interpretation of turnovers had actually yet to it is in invented. Instead, a team was charged through “errors,” and a defender who committed an off-the-ball foul would gain the very same “error” as a sphere handler that traveled.

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• offensive goaltending and also lane violate no longer resulted in field goal or free throw attempts being charged come a player or a team, and also for the very first time, shooting percentage ended up being a pure measure up of skill.

In later on editions, Isaacs tackled the issue of assists and steals, cementing lock in the discourse. Steals were one more ABA development that trickled to the NBA and NCAA, when assists were much more common, however routinely misused. (Steals were very first recorded in the final Four in 1973.) and also underlying it every was that an essential bit the logic, the philosophy, that made the whole thing rational. For example, under assists, Isaacs wrote:

Philosophy. An help should be more than a program pass that simply happens to be complied with by a ar goal. It must be a aware effort to uncover the open up player or to aid a player work-related free. There must not be a limit on the number of dribbles by the receiver. The is no even essential that the help be offered on the last pass. There is no restraint on the distance or form of shoot made, for these space the critical factors in determining whether an help should it is in credited.

The language clarified one of the most widely misinterpreted rules of the game. Part statkeepers would give an aid only if the shot was taken within a certain variety of dribbles, a by-the-book blindness that ignored what an assist actually means. Here’s an instance from Isaacs: A player through an open fast-break layup throw an alley-oop come a teammate rather than score himself. In the NBA, the player gets the assist. But in the NCAA, the ideal ruling would be to give the aid to the person who passed the round downcourt before, because it to be his happen that brought about the basket.

Philosophy. Or, together Isaacs placed it: “What is it exactly that we’re trying come reward and not reward?”

It’s fair to contact Isaacs the godfather of university basketball statistics, and also to this day he’s identified by surname in the annual statisticians’ manual. (In the late ’80s, the NCAA mandated the an employee write it, ending Isaacs’s tenure.) Still, that wouldn’t take credit for the dead-ball rebound.

“We go not produce it,” Isaacs said. “I’m certain it was already there in part form.”

Benninger grounding by what that told me: Isaacs to be the inventor. Therefore did man Cecil (“I’ve constantly been under the impression”). So did Jim Tharp (“I think our stat crew come up v the idea”). And also so go Paul Marquess, who started in 1965 and is tho an alternative team statistician. However they all hedged your statements, if only slightly, and also none that them could pinpoint the moment of invention.

“I’d be afraid to say we ‘invented’ it,” Marquess told me, laughing. “But climate again, there’s nobody about to say us didn’t, so i guess we can insurance claim what us want.”

Yet Isaacs insists he’s no the inventor. However if lock didn’t develop the stat, they to be the very first to use it in a last Four in 1969, and they formalized that in print via Isaacs in the summer that 1973. It’s been used on last Four crate scores indigenous 1972 onward. (It took a hiatus in 1970 and also 1971, once the last Four to be away native Louisville and also the crew supplied old stat sheets developed by the NCAA.)

“As far as it being there in ’69 and also not in ’70 or ’71,” stated Isaacs, “it often tends to make me think it came from the ABA prior to 1969.”

Kenny Klein, Louisville’s sports information director, confirm the archives, i m sorry revealed the the school’s crew very first used dead-ball rebounds ~ above February 13, 1969, in a Cardinals 83-81 overtime win against Tulsa. Kline sent me a scan the the stat sheet, which marks the first time the dead-ball fag was ever before used in one NCAA game:

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As you can see, Isaacs composed “dead ball rebounds” through hand in one open an are in the stat sheet, which lent credence come the idea the this came from what else. And also where else can it have come from, with this group, than the ABA? Isaacs dug up an ABA stat paper from 1972 — Kentucky Colonels vs. Mountain Diego Conquistadors — through dead-ball rebounds in your assigned space. Yet he didn’t have actually anything that came before it.

“They were such a loose group in terms of human being coming and also going,” Isaacs cautioned. “They might have provided it to us, however they didn’t call us specifically how it was an alleged to work.”

I contacted statisticians, ABA coaches, people loosely linked with the NBA, ABA post boards, the Basketball hall of Fame, the Elias sporting activities Bureau, ESPN, and also even Mike Storen, father of Hannah Storm and also former commissioner that the ABA. Nobody had any kind of idea whereby dead-ball rebounds started, who can know, or why the hell I want to know.

Finally, i was directed to Lloyd Gardner, the guy who organizes the King the the Bluegrass Holiday classic high school basketball tournament and also a Kentucky Colonels historian who composed a book about the franchise. He didn’t have any type of old stat sheets, but he assumed the NBA groups that come from the ABA might.

I struck paydirt v the Pacers. David Benner, manager of media relations, and Krissy Myers, public information manager, cracked open up the old tomes indigenous the 1967-68 season, the maiden trip of both the Pacers and the ABA, and produced the sheet for November 1, 1967. Pacers vs. Brand-new Jersey Americans. It was the third home game in franchise history.College hoops fanatics will acknowledge at the very least one various other name ~ above the UNC next of the score sheet — Jim Delany, who played 13.5 minutes, choose up four fouls, and finished through no points and one rebound. Today, Delany is the commissioner that the huge Ten.

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Isaacs to be right. Dead-ball rebounds in the ABA came before their use at Louisville. Together Benner and also Myers verified me, the Louisville crew didn’t even start maintaining DBRs until the 1969-70 season, after ~ they’d currently brought the idea come the NCAA.

John Zoni, an ESPN statistician, assisted me uncover an excerpt indigenous the book loosened Balls top top the website salaries of Wins. It comprehensive how a Minnesota native and ex-journalist called Lee Meade speak his method into ending up being the main ABA statistician.

Meade is a fascinating sporting activities journeyman, and Sports Illustrated later on ran a story ~ above his involvement through failed start-up leagues (including, incredibly, the ABA, the world Hockey Association, world Team Tennis, the international Basketball League, major League Volleyball, and the CFL’s failed expansion into America) in 1990. From loosened Balls, here are the advancements Meade created to distinguish ABA statistics indigenous the NBA:

1. Rebounds — offensive and defensive. The NBA simply kept complete rebounds, no breakdown.

2. Individual turnovers. We called them “errors.” The NBA didn’t save this stat.

3. Steals. The NBA didn’t save it.

4. Blocked shots. The NBA didn’t save it.

5. Team rebounds. The NCAA offered it, but the NBA didn’t.

That last entry — team rebounds — argues that Meade can have to be the progenitor the dead-ball rebounds as well. Unfortunately, that passed far at period 82 in 2010, and also conversations v his family turned up no brand-new leads.

And that’s wherein it all dropped apart. Calls go unreturned, numbers come up disconnected, e-mails bounced back. Which pipeline us through this: This unknown male — maybe Meade or possibly someone else totally — cared an terrible lot about basketball statistics and recognized the need to differentiate the different species of rebounds, if only to host everyone accountable and mitigate fraud. Whoever that was, we deserve to bet he to be a perfectionist and an obsessive, due to the fact that that’s the kind of human being who would feel the pressing must balance every crate score under to the last missed shot. He could sense the chaos the existed just beyond his box score, and also could visualize the limits needed to save that pressure from corrupting the game.

So he finds a ready ear in the ABA. It catches on in some places, favor Indiana, however not instantly in others. It never captures on with the NBA, due to the fact that Harvey Pollack and also others don’t believe that team rebounds mean anything. It would have passed away in 1976, with the ABA, but a guy with the Kentucky Colonels decides that he likes the idea. It’s an accountant’s trick, maybe, however a useful one.

This man, Isaacs, functions at Louisville, too, and also knows the very same ache the a disordered world that pained the inventor. He offered that impulse to solve assists and also field score percentage, and define turnovers, and redefine steals. Statistics make an ext sense due to the fact that of him, and therefore so does the game. Without discovering it, the remainder of us — players, coaches, fans — need him. He’s a type of guardian, and also basketball’s statistical integrity relies on him.

Isaacs is too ethical to case the dead-ball rebound because that himself, but he’s a worthy heir to the stat. He have the right to understand the require for the creation. Come the remainder of united state it may appear arcane and of ambiguous helpful use, but not to him. He to know the stat sheet demands to be squared, and he knows this is critical piece that the puzzle. He’s not the kind to leave any stone unturned, so once he eventually writes the first statistician’s hands-on for the NCAA, reinventing university basketball statistics with every word, he bring the dead-ball rebound along for the ride. He’ll never know the inventor, yet the inventor would certainly be pleased, due to the fact that his stat dropped into certain hands. And also when a Louisville crew functions the gamings in Atlanta this weekend for the 45th directly year, it will certainly be there, on the bottom right corner of a beautifully balanced stat sheet.

Louisville, course of ’57, after offer in civilization War II with the Navy.

I to be told by one more member that the group loosely described themselves together “The World’s biggest Stat Crew,” and also Benninger was referred to as “Chief.”

The scorekeeper place is separate from the stat crew; he’s considered an official who keeps monitor of fouls, substitutions, and also the complete score, and sits at center court.

On this point, Harvey Pollack, the legend 91-year-old statistician who has worked for the NBA since its inception in 1946, strenuously disagreed v Isaacs. Follow to Isaacs, Pollack sent him a totality folder’s worth of letters and claimed that nobody would ever use the NCAA manual. I referred to as Pollack. Our 10-minute chat ended this way: “I have actually no idea why anybody also calls it a dead-ball rebound. Ns don’t think I’ve ever before read a story about a video game in i m sorry they also mentioned the indigenous ‘dead-ball rebound.’ It’s what’s recognized as inconsequential. All right? every right, I desire to watch TV now.”

The note next to the “5” in the Indiana “dead balls” ar on the sheet below is a check, not a “7.”

For example, offensive goaltending violations resulted in a ar goal miss for the offending team, yet not the player, nevertheless of even if it is the ball went in … neither of which made sense, together Isaacs pointed out, if the goal to be to keep specific measure of shoot percentage. In the very same vein, a complimentary throw shooter who committed a roadway violation was charged through a missed effort (again, regardless of even if it is the round went in), if the team to be charged through a miss out on if a player ~ above the blocks committed the violation.

It got worse. Dunking to be banned native 1967 come 1976 in the NCAA, and the rule sheet declared that any player that dunked and also had the basket nullified should, again, it is in charged with a missed field goal attempt. Also, the modern definition of turnovers had yet to it is in invented. Instead, a team to be charged with “errors,” and a defender that committed an off-the-ball foul would get the very same “error” as a round handler who traveled.

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College hoops fanatics will acknowledge at least one various other name on the UNC side of the score sheet — Jim Delany, who played 13.5 minutes, picked up four fouls, and finished with no points and one rebound. Today, Delany is the commissioner that the big Ten.