Long before any controversy involving the lacrosse team, Duke was one of the great Rorschach tests in sports. Few subjects seem to call up stronger feelings than the fortunes of the Duke men's basketball team. Blue Devils haters believe Duke has never won a game without help from the referees.
Duke fans, obviously, disagree. They distinguish themselves by being the most sensitive fans in fandom and see anti-Duke bias everywhere, though I think even Duke fans have to admit that Dick Vitale is pretty fond of Coach K and Co. Still, I haven't even finished typing the second paragraph of this item and I've already received 12 e-mails from Duke alums about it, and they don't even know what I'm going to say.
I'm going to say Duke won a game Thursday night with help from the referees.
[And I don't mean Oregon, which had its own problems Thursday.]
Over the years I've defended the Dukies, despite never once having failed to root against them, against this charge of pro-Duke officiating bias. "Foul calls are as random, inexplicable and nonsensical in Duke's games as in anybody else's," I wrote three years ago, for example.
But dang, did you see the end of that Clemson game Thursday night? Duke won at home on a layup at the buzzer by role-player David McClure, with an assist by freshman Jon Scheyer. And another by the refs.
Clemson had tied the game with -- well, how many seconds left is the issue -- on a 3-pointer by Vernon Hamilton. Hamilton had just scored on a layup to pull Clemson within three with 5.0 seconds left. And we're not even going to talk about how Duke's Josh McRoberts had fouled Hamilton on that layup. We're just not.
McRoberts threw the inbounds pass right to Hamilton, standing just beyond the arc straight away. The clock should have started as soon as Hamilton touched the ball, but it failed to move as Hamilton caught the ball, sized up the shot and let it go.
The clock started as the ball went through the net, stopping again with 1.8 seconds left.
So OK, let's stop and be clear here. Duke was leading by three, so it wasn't a slick move by the home timekeeper not to start the clock. That was against Duke's interests. It was just a mistake. And since the clock started running when it should have stopped, and went past where it should have gone, the whole thing would have hurt Duke if the officials hadn't fixed it.
Poor choice of words. Corrected it.
So the officials met and haggled and bargained and kibitzed, and reset the clock to 4.4 seconds.
What?! Hamilton catching the ball, aiming and firing, and the ball traveling about 20 feet took 0.6 seconds? That's insane. Was it traveling 100 mph? Were you screaming at your TV?
Not if you're a Duke fan, you weren't. The Blue Devils, with 4.4 seconds to play with, went the length of the court with two passes sandwiched around a couple of dribbles by Scheyer.
Now, would Duke have won if the officials had somehow gotten it right and reset the clock to something like 2.4 seconds, as the timer on ESPN's "SportsCenter" suggested was correct? That's certainly possible. Maybe even likely, since the worst non-disaster scenario for Duke would have been overtime, and you have to figure Duke at home has a better than 50-50 shot in overtime, refs or no.
But let me get to the main point, now that we've gone two pages and 600 words together. What is so damn hard about getting the clock right?
This happens all the time. It happened in that Dallas-Seattle NFL playoff game, on the Tony Romo muff. College basketball refs spend more time at the scorer's table double-checking timing errors than they spend with their own families. Or checking whether 3-pointers were really 3-pointers, and they do that a lot.
The timekeeper either does or should have one job: Keep the time. And at the end of a close game, that ought to really be the time when he or she pays close attention and doesn't screw up. In games governed by the clock -- which is just about all of 'em we care about except baseball -- there aren't too many jobs more important than getting the clock right. How can you not start the clock when Hamilton touches that errant pass.
What, exactly, were you doing, Mr. or Ms. Timekeeper?
Were the refs, who talked it over and decided that a play that couldn't possibly have taken only 0.6 seconds took 0.6 seconds, fixing it so Duke won? Duke haters say of course, no doubt, but I'll side with the Duke fans and say no, not too likely.
Then again, if I'd told you what happened in that Duke-Clemson game, and I hadn't told you who benefited, what would your guess have been?
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And they said it wouldn't last [PERMALINK]
If I can just have a moment here, today, Jan. 26, is my 10th anniversary at Salon. One week before this site -- then at Salon1999.com and chiefly an arts and culture rag -- switched from a weekly to a daily publishing schedule, founder David Talbot hired me to be the site's first copy chief. Also its first copy editor. It had been live for a little over a year.
We've been through the boom, the bust and the survival, Salon and I. We've survived many a deathwatch, most of them Salon's, fortunately. I've never had a job as long and I've never had a better one. I've been an editor and a writer, a boss and an underling, an officemate and a cross-country telecommuter.
I've edited the work of some of the best writers in the language and been edited by some of the best editors, and that includes you, Salon's readership, who never let a fumbled fact, poorly thought-out idea or stretch of lazy analysis pass without comment.
I feel lucky to have hitched on to something as significant as the development of the World Wide Web so early in the ride, and I'm proud of everything Salon's accomplished since those rickety dial-up days, not the least of which is surviving.
I won't say here's to the next 10 years because who knows what'll happen in the next 10 years. When you write a daily column you take it one day at a time. So here's to the next deadline and, what the hell, the one after that. Thanks for reading.
Previous column: When is a big game not the Big One?
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