King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Tennessee and a clock over Rutgers, Georgetown and a phantom foul over Villanova: In a post-Donaghy world, endings like Monday's can't happen.


King Kaufman
February 12, 2008 4:00PM (UTC)

Nice night of college basketball we had there Monday night.

Georgetown beat Villanova 55-53 at home thanks to a ticky-tack foul called 80 feet away from the basket with 0.1 seconds remaining. It was the kind of foul that just doesn't get called at any point in a game, never mind at :00.1, a minor brush by defender Corey Stokes on Jonathan Wallace as he dribbled upcourt hoping to get close enough for a desperation shot that he wasn't going to have time to take.

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Wallace had come up with a loose ball that resulted from 'Nova's Scottie Reynolds getting mugged underneath the basket on a baseline drive. No call there. That's a foul about half the time, depending on how the big wheel in the officials' dressing room lands in the pregame spin.

But a little bump in the backcourt with a 10th of a second left, that's a foul. Usually in cases like this the guy who benefits from the call makes a good show afterward, says, "Sure, yeah, he fouled me." Wallace must have known he couldn't pull that off with a straight face.

"At first I thought I stepped out of bounds," Wallace said. He went on to admit that he did feel a "kind of nudge."

The "foul" -- the 48th of the game -- gave Wallace, an 80 percent free-throw shooter, two shots to make one for the win. He made both. The game could have been wrapped in a bow and handed to the Hoyas, but that would have been more work for them than this was. They would have had to untie the bow.

And that was the game that looked like it was on the up and up compared with the Tennessee-Rutgers women's game.

The top-ranked Lady Vols won that one 59-58 thanks to a terrific play by the clock, which simply stopped with 0.2 seconds to go and Tennessee trying to score. That really helped the Vols extend the final play long enough for Nicky Anosike to get fouled. She hit both free throws for the one-point win.

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"We found a way to win," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. Well, yeah.

Anosike, rebounding a Candace Parker miss, jumped and caught the ball with 0.2 seconds left. That's when the clock stopped. She landed, gathered herself to jump to shoot and was fouled from behind by Kia Vaughn. The clock restarted and zipped down to 0, all before any official blew a whistle.

Arena officials told reporters that the clock is controlled remotely by a device connected wirelessly to the officials' whistles. There isn't a guy at the scorer's table who can push a button to stop the clock and extend the final play for the home team.

Replays clearly showed that the foul was whistled well after the clock reached 0, and ESPN clocked the last 0.2 seconds taking 1.3 seconds to tick off.

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Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said she and her assistant coaches were already celebrating, thinking they'd knocked off a No. 1 team for the second game in a row following their win over UConn last Tuesday, when one of them noticed that the clock had stopped. Stringer made a point not to accuse Tennessee -- "It's not Pat's fault. It's not Tennessee's fault" -- but also said, "This should not be tolerated."

She's right. In a post-Tim Donaghy world, sports leagues should be going the extra mile to make sure games aren't decided in such a way as to make it look like the fix is in. I don't know what anyone can do about an official making a stupid judgment call with 0.1 second left, as happened at Georgetown, but something can definitely be done about that Tennessee-Rutgers finish.

Officials routinely gather around a video monitor to determine if a shot was released before the end of a half or if a shooter stepped on the three-point line. They often do this even when the play was fairly obvious to the naked eye. Just to be sure.

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But in a huge, nationally televised game involving the teams that played for the championship last year, the refs can't or won't look at the video that clearly shows the clock stopping for a full second with 0.2 to play? The Sports Network reported Stringer saying an official told her they'd reviewed the play, but if they watched that replay and didn't see that the clock stopped at 0.2 and the foul occurred after the game should have ended, all the clichés about three blind mice and so on are true.

"The clock was stopped," Stringer said after the game. "That's the reason there was time for a foul to occur."

Now officials are in a no-win situation. The right thing to do would be to award Rutgers the victory. But at this late date -- after everybody's left the floor -- that would look just as bad as Tennessee's win does. When you go around reversing scores after the fact it carries the whiff of the fix being in just as much as a stopped clock does.

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We hear so much bloviating from people in my line of work about performance-enhancing drugs damaging the integrity of games, and what a terrible, intolerable thing that is. But when officials screw up and hand the game over to the home team, everybody shrugs. Hey, human error. Happens. Whaddaya gonna do?

Something. Ought to do something. It shouldn't be that difficult to get things right, or to make them right when human error does happen.

Rutgers lost a game to Stanford three months ago when Epiphanny Prince was called for a foul on Candice Wiggins 80 feet away from the basket with the score tied and 0.1 second left. Wiggins sunk both free throws.

Stringer used the same phrase that night that she did Monday night: "It is what it is."

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It shouldn't be.

Previous column: Offshoring Premier League soccer

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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