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By now you have probably seen the play a dozen times. Justin Brownlee of St. John’s picks up the loose ball up two, with a few seconds left in the game. He bounces it once, takes two steps (a clear walk), steps out of bounds with 1.7 seconds left (clearly) and then heaves the ball into the stands (with time on the clock). Game over. Veteran official Tim Higgins is on the same sideline that Brownlee stepped on, maybe 20 feet away. No call. No whistle. Under the rules for review, no call/no whistle equals no review. Mike Rice, busy screaming about (another) non-call, doesn’t even see what happens (although Rutgers player Robert Lumpkins could be seen immediately appealing to ref Higgins, actually pointing to the sideline). The refs run off the court. St. John’s 65, Rutgers 63. Anybody with a brain will (now) see the need to fix the rule. But there’s a much bigger issue to be looked at here.
CAN YOU CHANGE THE CALL AND REPLAY THE LAST 1.7 SECONDS?
You heard a lot of this stuff when then-Tiger Armando Galarraga pitched the perfect game that wasn’t last summer against the Indians when umpire Jim Joyce clearly blew the call at first base on what would have been the final out of a perfect game. Joyce admitted his mistake, Galarraga handled it with class and dignity (now, for goodness sakes, they are writing a book together), but no change was made.
Unfortunately, the same result occurred in Rutgers-St, John’s. While referees look at the video replay at the end of the game for a number of things, one of them is not either stepping out of bounds (absent a call, apparently) nor walking late in the game. Also, apparently, according to the NCAA, had there been a call (for example, the ref thinks a player stepped out of bounds, blows the whistle and he didn’t step out of bounds), apparently that play might be reviewable. According to the NCAA, no call, no replay. According to the Big East, there were two officiating mistakes (presumably a walk and a step out of bounds), but neither was reviewable nor correctable.
Despite the hue and cry for a review, at least according to the letter of the law, no review allowed. Rather, national embarrassment for the refs, the Big East and college basketball in general.
TIME FOR A CHALLENGE
While you can yell all you want about how replay can (and often does) slow down the game (you pick the sport), it’s clear now that some form of challenge should be allowed in all of these sports. Even if it’s only one challenge per game (whether the coach is right or wrong), that would take the onus off the refs and put it on the coaches (the coaches may not like that – see the NFL when a coach makes a stupid challenge early in the game and then, later in the game, when there is an egregious, TD-costing error, the coach is “out of challenges”).
In the Galaragga game, maybe Jim Leyland would have challenged something earlier in the game and not had a challenge for the last play of the game. While Joyce still would have been hammered for a bad call, others would have stated that the Tigers had a challenge but had used it (I believe you should have unlimited challenges if you are right – but we are far away from that). In yesterday’s game, maybe Mike Rice would have already used his challenge. Even if he hadn’t, he didn’t see what happened (he was yelling about a non-foul call), although his player did. You don’t even know if there would have been a challenge.
But, rather than having a national debate about what can or can’t be reviewed or what should or shouldn’t be reviewed, give a team a chance to challenge a call or non-call at the end of the day. The NCAA has to change this rule – if you are waiting for a call to review and there is no call (because the ref missed a guy stepping out of bounds almost two seconds before the game is over), well, there has to be some mechanism to review that play.
WHAT ABOUT THAT GHOST THAT STEVE LAVIN THOUGHT HE ALMOST SAW?
Well, Coach Lavin couldn’t say much (What was he going to say? We got away with one?). But the ghost that this writer saw was the ghost of St. John’s past, the ghost of Little Looie getting the big calls (and the big non-calls) down the stretch at the Garden when St. John’s was king of college basketball in the City.
If you go back to the 1980s (and before, if you were around), you know that St. John’s often got the benefit of the whistle (or non-whistle) when they played in the Garden. In fact, if you attended or played in games that were played on the St. John’s campus (in what is now called, and rightfully so, Carnesecca Arena), you knew St. John’s was going to get the whistle. While lots of teams get calls on their home floor, St. John’s hasn’t been accorded that privilege for many years. Maybe the refs reverted to how it was in the 1980s and before. Or maybe they just made horrid non-calls.
Remember, it wasn’t just the no walk, no step out of bounds call. Mike Coburn of Rutgers got hammered by DJ Kennedy while taking a driving, 10-foot jumper, down one, very late in the game. Then, down two with 4.9 seconds left, Jonathan Mitchell got hammered on the over-the-back foul after trying to rebound a Justin Brownlee miss. After St. John’s threw away the inbounds pass, Rutgers threw a pass over the mid-court line and Gilvydas Biruta, the Rutgers big man, got sandwiched by two St. John’s players (although, at least, this was a free ball that anyone could go after). If Rutgers couldn’t get a call on the prior two (obvious) fouls, they weren’t going to get that call.
Then Brownlee walked, stepped out of bounds and threw the ball into the stands. No call, no call and no call.
Game over, according to the refs, the Big East and the NCAA.
And the rest, as they don’t say, is mystery.
WILL ANYTHING COME OF THIS?
Well, at a minimum, there has to be some change in the notion that only a call (as opposed to an egregious non-call) can be reviewed. And somebody with a brain has to look at exactly what is reviewable down the stretch. But it would be much better if a challenge system was put into play for next season.
That won’t be perfect. But it will be much better than what happened Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.