An NCAA rule in need of a timely re­view

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - John Fe­in­stein Read more from the author at his blog, fe­in­steinon­the­

Last Sun­day, Buck­nell and Holy Cross met in Lewisburg, Pa., with an early jump on first place in the Pa­triot League at stake. Down 14 early in the sec­ond half, the Cru­saders ral­lied to tie the score at 72 with 29 sec­onds left.

Buck­nell held the ball for one shot. Point guard Dar­ryl Shazier drove into the lane and re­versed the ball to lead­ing scorer Mike

Mus­cala, who coolly drained a jump shot from the right el­bow with 1.4 sec­onds left to give the Bi­son a 74-72 lead.

When Buck­nell Coach Dave Paulsen saw Mus­cala re­lease the shot, he was con­vinced it was a three-pointer. The of­fi­cials ruled it was a two-pointer. There was no time for Paulsen to ar­gue be­cause Holy Cross, out of time­outs, was in­bound­ing the ball. Holy Cross point guard An­drew

Bein­ert threw a 75-foot in­bounds pass that was caught by cen­ter Josh Jones, who quickly tossed a pass to Devin Brown — his team’s best shooter. Brown’s shot, from about 26 feet, would have counted if it had gone in, but it was wide left as the buzzer sounded.

Buck­nell won, 74-72.

TV re­plays later showed that Mus­cala’s shot was, in fact, a three-pointer, and it didn’t re­ally mat­ter be­cause Buck­nell had won the game. But what if Brown’s shot, a squared-up at­tempt off a well-run play, had gone in? At that moment, it would have ap­peared that Holy Cross had won the game, 75-74.

That would not have been the case.

By rule, Paulsen could have asked the of­fi­cials to look at the TV monitor at the scorer’s ta­ble to see if Mus­cala’s shot was a three-pointer. They would no doubt have seen it as such, the score would have been tied at 75 and Holy Cross would have had to stop cel­e­brat­ing and play over­time.

“ The win­dow to check the monitor would still have been open at that point,” said John Adams, the NCAA’s su­per­vi­sor of bas­ket­ball of­fi­cials. “ The rule says af­ter the sec­ond live ball, you can’t go back. At that point, there had only been one live ball.”

To trans­late: When Mus­cala’s shot went through the bas­ket, it was a dead-ball sit­u­a­tion. The Holy Cross in­bounds pass cre­ated a live ball, and then if a shot had been made the ball would have been dead again.

The ball never would have been live a sec­ond time in that sit­u­a­tion be­cause the buzzer would have sounded. At that point, the of­fi­cials would have first checked to see if Brown’s shot had beaten the buzzer. Once they ruled that it had, Paulsen would have asked them to check to see if Mus­cala’s shot was a three-pointer and they would have con­firmed that.

“We wouldn’t have been happy,” Holy Cross Coach Mi­lan Brown said. “But if that was the call, that was the call.”

But what if Jones had caught the ball, turned and made a two­point shot? At that point it would have ap­peared that the Cru­saders had tied the score at 74. Once the re­plays had been checked, though, Holy Cross would have been told it had lost the game.

“Oh my God, re­ally?” Brown said. “If that had hap­pened then I would have been to­tally fu­ri­ous. In fact, I doubt if we’d have ended up los­ing by one be­cause I’m not sure how many tech­ni­cals they would have given me be­fore I was done.”

Adams, af­ter check­ing the rule book, con­firmed that the game would have in fact ended that way had Holy Cross made a two-point shot and Mus­cala’s shot had been changed to a three-pointer.

“ That’s a hor­ri­ble sce­nario, but it is pos­si­ble,” Adams said. “I can’t imag­ine an of­fi­cial hav­ing to tell a team that they lost in that sit­u­a­tion. If they’re op­er­at­ing with mis­in­for­ma­tion be­cause of an of­fi­cial’s mis­take, that’s not fair.”

Adams was concerned enough about what might have hap­pened — and what could hap­pen in the fu­ture — that he said this past week he was go­ing to put an item on the agenda for the an­nual rules com­mit­tee meet­ing in May to ad­dress this sit­u­a­tion.

“Nor­mally the rules com­mit­tee doesn’t like to pass rules that in­volve a spe­cific sit­u­a­tion that might be con­sid­ered a one-in-amil­lion shot to hap­pen,” Adams said. “But this is the kind of thing if it did ever hap­pen, es­pe­cially in post­sea­son, it would clearly be pretty aw­ful.”

Ac­cord­ing to Adams, one of the prob­lems with the rules is that most of them were made be­fore technology changed the game. Each time technology be­comes more a part of the game, it cre­ates new sce­nar­ios that hadn’t been thought of in the past. This would be an ex­am­ple. Ex­actly how to fix this sort of sit­u­a­tion isn’t sim­ple. Even if a standby of­fi­cial was added for ev­ery reg­u­lar sea­son game — as al­ready ex­ists in post­sea­son — that of­fi­cial might not have a good enough view to merit stop­ping play im­me­di­ately af­ter a shot is made or he might not be able to get it stopped quickly enough in a scram­ble sit­u­a­tion like the one in the Buck­nell-Holy Cross game. Of­ten, teams want to get the ball in­bounds as quickly as pos­si­ble in the fi­nal sec­onds to pre­vent the de­fense from hav­ing time to set up.

“ There’s no easy an­swer,” Adams said. “But it’s cer­tainly some­thing we need to take a look at in the fu­ture.”

But how soon in the fu­ture? What if a play should oc­cur in the NCAA tour­na­ment — where wild fin­ishes are fre­quent — that in­volves a team con­vert­ing a two-point buzzer-beater only to find af­ter a re­play that it was trail­ing by three?

“Can you imag­ine that?” Brown said. “Imag­ine the of­fi­cials say­ing to a coach, ‘Re­ally sorry you lost that way, but don’t worry: The rules com­mit­tee is go­ing to get this fixed for next sea­son.’ ”

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski agreed. “It’s not only a ter­ri­ble way to lose, it’s a ter­ri­ble way to win,” he said. “It’d be bad for the game. I’d say it’s def­i­nitely some­thing that should be looked at as soon as pos­si­ble.”

The sce­nario may sound far­fetched, but it is far from im­pos­si­ble. Per­haps the rules com­mit­tee needs to fix this now, not af­ter the sea­son. The NCAA can prob­a­bly af­ford the cost of a con­fer­ence call. Can it af­ford to have an NCAA tour­na­ment game end that way?

“ The log­i­cal thing to do is ad­dress it right now,” Mary­land Coach Gary Wil­liams said. “Why wait for some­thing like that to hap­pen? Why not fix it right away?”

Wil­liams be­lieves once the ball is put in play af­ter a shot is made it shouldn’t be changed — re­play or no re­play. “ Last year at

Vir­ginia Tech, we thought we had hit a three with some­thing like six sec­onds left in over­time,” he said. “We gave them a a layup at the buzzer. Then they went to re­play and said our shot was a two — score tied. Ob­vi­ously if we’d known it was a two we’d have played de­fense dif­fer­ently.

“At least though we could still win the game. The other way the game is over. Or, worse, your sea­son could be over be­cause you had bad in­for­ma­tion. That just can’t hap­pen.”

Ex­cept that right now it can hap­pen.


Buck­nell’sMikeMus­cala, right, ex­posed an in­con­sis­tency with an NCAA rule that could prove costly.

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