Deconstructing the Butler vs. Xavier Finish…

Posted by rtmsf on December 20th, 2009

In case you missed it, there was a bizarre ending to the Butler vs. Xavier game in Hinkle Fieldhouse today that allowed the home Bulldogs to get a huge win that will undoubtedly help them when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding in March.  Down a single point with thirty-six seconds remaining, Butler came out of a broken play with a a wide-open layup for Gordon Hayward that included two offensive rebounds, a couple of near-steals for Xavier, a possible backcourt violation, a clock stoppage, a couple of scrums on the floor and a long break in the action as the refs tried to sort it all out.  This is the sequence of events as they happened in real time:

What ended up happening was something that we’ve never seen before in all our years of watching college basketball (or our correspondent’s, who was on-site at the game today).  If you stuck with the video all the way to the end, you know that the officials ultimately decided that the brief clock stoppage during the near-steal in the backcourt negated the final 1.2 seconds of the game, giving Butler the victory without an opportunity for Xavier to throw length-of-the-court and try to win the game.  We’ve probably seen time added to a game a hundred or more times, but we’re not sure we’ve ever seen time taken away to end a game.   Here’s the officials’ postgame explanation:

The game clock was erroneously stopped at 14.7 seconds. When we put (on) the stopwatch to see how long the clock had erroneously stopped, 1.3 seconds had elapsed.  The shot by the Butler player was released at 1.8 seconds. The ball went through the net at 1.2 seconds and the clock stopped correctly.  Because we lost 1.3 seconds, that time is deducted from the remaining 1.2 seconds, officially ending the game.

Xavier’s Chris Mack was apoplectic over this decision, and there’s a general sense around the twitterati that XU got homered at historic Hinkle today, but was the decision by the officials a fair and equitable one?  Should time ever be taken away from a close game?  And what does the NCAA rule say?  RTC is here to answer those questions.

Let’s start with the rule.  NCAA Rule 2, Section 13 of the 2010 & 2011 Men’s Basketball Rules covers this situation.  It essentially states that the officials must make corrections to the timing of the game during the next dead ball situation (which they did).  But it’s completely ambiguous as to whether officials have the discretion to end a game based on a timing error.  Since it’s unstated, the assumption here is that they do, although as referred to above, we’re not sure we ever remember such a situation so we’re skeptical that this was contemplated when the rule was written.

Was the decision a fair and equitable one?  This is a very tough question to answer, because your opinion will probably align closely with whichever team you were rooting for in this one.  There are good arguments on both sides.  Butler fans can point to the fact that the officials got it “right.”  They fixed the timing issue on the final play, and it was clear that Hayward got his shot off in time given both scenarios (both “right” and “wrong” time).  Xavier fans are correct in pointing out that players react differently given time on the clock in a given situation.  Would Butler’s Hayward have taken the time to dribble, set, and methodically go up for the layup if he thought he had less than one second remaining rather than over two ticks on the clock?

Holloway Did Not Find It Fair & Equitable

The answer is that we don’t know, just as we don’t know what might have happened if Xavier had a final attempt to win the game in the last 1.2 seconds.  But what we do know is that having officials call a game over on a timing error (especially when the timing error favored the home team at both ends – more time to shoot on the front end, and no time for Xavier to shoot on the back end) doesn’t pass the sniff test, even if it follows the letter of the law in the NCAA rulebook.  Officials are there to manage games; they’re not there to decide them.  And the fact that a group of officials removed any possibility for Xavier to win or lose on their own merits in what was otherwise a fantastic exhibition of college basketball today just doesn’t seem right.

So here’s what we propose, and when the NCAA changes this rule in 2015, remember where you saw it (kidding, sorta).  Similar to the way a football game cannot end on a defensive penalty, we propose that an NCAA college basketball game cannot end on a clock error where time is removed as it was today.  If there is a timing error that will result in a negative balance of time for the final play, then we suggest that the clock shall be reset to provide an equal amount of time to the other side.  So, for example, in today’s game, Butler was the beneficiary of 1.3 additional seconds of play during its possession that ultimately allowed Hayward to score and put the Bulldogs ahead.  In our scenario, Xavier would then be given 1.3 seconds for its final possession to make up for the additional benefit that Butler got.  This would achieve a fair and equitable solution to a problem that few NCAA legislative analysts, if any, have probably ever considered prior to this afternoon (and if anyone has evidence to the contrary, please send it our way).

This compromise would avoid us ever having to end a game on a clock error where one team reasonably believes it will still have time for a final shot, while also allowing for the reality that these things will happen from time to time and ensuring that both teams benefit (rather than just one) from an erroneous timing issue.  Unfortunately for all of us, though, this makes a little too much sense, which is why the NCAA will never adopt it.  After all, these are some of the same people who are considering expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams.  Yeah, good luck with that.

rtmsf (3740 Posts)


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16 Responses to “Deconstructing the Butler vs. Xavier Finish…”

  1. Scott says:

    “So, for example, in today’s game, Butler was the beneficiary of 1.3 additional seconds of play during its possession that ultimately allowed Hayward to score and put the Bulldogs ahead.”

    That’s where your argument falls apart, in finality Butler wasn’t the beneficiary of additional time. If Hayward’s shot would have come with 1.3 or fewer seconds left it would have been negated. Your scenario would likely lead to intentional clock stoppage . If I have 6 seconds left and can get a free 3 by only giving up 3 on the other end I would have my clock guy do it every time.

  2. rtmsf says:

    Scott, this scenario already invites intentional clock stoppage by the operator. If he “accidentally” stops it for a couple of seconds on the last play, knowing fully well that most teams don’t wait until 2.0 to shoot (more likely 3.0-5.0), then if the shot goes down, there will be a time review and the opponent won’t have anything left to get a final shot up (same as yesterday). There’s a presumption of good faith operation of the score/time, but crooked behavior is encouraged both ways (this can be solved with technology, where official whistles are tied to the clock).

    I said it above, but Butler was the beneficiary of additional time in that they thought they had 1.2 extra seconds than they actually had. Players react differently given the time on the clock, and a 1 second difference at the end of a game is huge when it comes to their behavior. Again, would Hayward have taken the time to dribble and drive to the rim if he thought there was under a second left; or would he have done something quickly like take a quick runner from 6-8 feet? I understand you’re saying that they didn’t actually get any “extra” time, but they got the perception and sense that they had more time, which is often just as important when it comes to their behavior.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Scott says:

    “Again, would Hayward have taken the time to dribble and drive to the rim if he thought there was under a second left; or would he have done something quickly like take a quick runner from 6-8 feet?”

    He picked himself up off the floor, dribbled once and got the rim as fast as possible, he didn’t have any idea how much time was left. Take a six to eight foot runner ? He was almost right under the basket. If you think they know to the second the exact time left you are nuts. How many times have you seen a guy jack up a half courter with three full seconds left ?

    I understand where you are coming from, in rare cases you indeed might be right, but I think a mandated technology improvement is the ultimate answer.

  4. rtmsf says:

    I saw one dribble baseline and a slight duck-under to get to the rim, so from my view he was 6-8 feet from the basket when he received the ball.

    I’ll grant you that in a broken play situation such as this it’s harder for players to keep mental or visual track of the time remaining. But I also know that players are usually pretty good about having a general sense as to the amount of time left. I think Hayward is particularly keen in this respect. In other situations where a play is run to shoot in the 3.0-5.0 second range, well, I’ve already outlined that problem (and usually the player shooting will know exactly what the clock says when he makes his move).

    Irrespective, I hope the NCAA provides a point of clarification on this next season b/c I doubt they contemplated this problem when they wrote the rule.

  5. Scott says:

    I understand your point, but you could also make the opposite argument in the reverse situation. So I guess the real question is where does it end ? I have no idea.

  6. Andrew says:

    While I agree that the NCAA needs to clarify this issue, I tend to agree with Scott here. I don’t think it likely that Hayward had a strong sense of the clock when he got hold of the ball and I strongly disagree with the statement that “a group of officials removed any possibility for Xavier to win or lose on their own merits”. Even if the officials had decided to leave 1.2 seconds on the clock after the review (which would have been unfair to Butler and the wrong call), Xavier’s best chance at winning or losing the game on their own merits was to get ahold of the loose ball in the endgame scenario, not a desperation shot at the buzzer.

  7. Jack says:

    Unfortunately the officials acted in the only way the rules would allow them to. Direct knowledge of a clock stoppage, reviewing the video with a stop watch, comparing the results negates the final 1.2 seconds that appeared to remain left in the game. What I find remarkable is the stupidity of Bobby Knight and Brent Musberger. They continued to question “how much time the officials would be ADDING to the clock due to the freeze or stoppage at 14.7 while the officials were reviewing the video.

  8. Jim says:

    The game was poorly officiated on both ends but was fairly consistent. They are a pretty experienced Big Ten crew. Someone said on another blog that the timekeeper probably thought it was going to be a backcourt violation so he was a little touchy on the timer which could be considered getting “homered”. Lots of soft calls the first half, Xavier was in the bonus pretty early but they let them play in the second half. In all fairness, they made the call with what they had to work with, within the rules. In fairness, should they have let Xavier have their shot with 1.2 seconds left, sure. Xavier had a great crowd for a road game and it was one of the more exciting games I have seen in a long time. Emotions run strong during a game like this but its up to the coach to lead by example. Coach Mack did a poor job of keeping his players under control. If it wasn’t for some team mangers and asst. coaches, Holloway was going after the time keeper and into the stands. Not acceptable behavior from a coach or a player. Something very interesting when compared to the Butler coach. It appeared someone threw an object at one of the referees from the student stands, again, not acceptable behavior but the Butler coach saw it, and during play, picked it up and walked to the student section and admonished them.

  9. Scott says:

    If you really want to see something that needs to be corrected watch Jordan Crawford sit on the baseline and watch for four seconds instead of playing defense.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfRc_c691es

  10. Ray Mueller says:

    Thank you Jack for your observation about Knight and Musberger calling for ADDING time when the question was how much time should be TAKEN OFF because of the stoppage. I called this to the attention of ESPN but I doubt if they will even be admonished. Also, in that last wild sequence, a foul should have been called on a Xavier player for undercutting in the backcourt just before the clock stoppage (for whatever reason) and a foul should have been called on a Butler player who knocked down an opponent by backing into him in the lane just before the loose ball got to the player who hit the winning basket. This situation reeked of incompetence by all involved.

  11. rtmsf says:

    Excellent point, Scott. I’m sure Chris Mack noticed that as well.

  12. Scott says:

    “Excellent point, Scott. I’m sure Chris Mack noticed that as well.”

    No I doubt he did. Which is part of the problem.

  13. rtmsf says:

    You don’t think he saw that on the replays? Maybe he won’t do anything about it, but I’d find it hard to believe he would have missed that.

  14. Scott says:

    It’s a great argument about a coach and a program on the edge……………….

  15. wickers says:

    I’m a Butler fan and I think the decision was horrible. When Butler tracked the ball down in the backcourt both teams are looking at the clock..decisions are made based on the time on the clock. How would Butler have felt had they simply held the ball until the 1second mark…hit the shot to apparently win the game and then have the refs review the play to say there was infact no time on the clock when you subtract the 1+ second that the clock was stopped. We would have thrown a fit. Therefore, they should not have corrected the error and simply given Xavier the 1.2 seconds to see if they could win the game. If the play is not stopped at the time of the timing error, I don’t think it can be fairly corrected later. Horrible ending to a great game at Hinkle.

  16. Just a Ref says:

    Re this shi**y end to a game between two good teams, the only thing that matters is whether it the correct call, not whether it’s “fair and equitable.” I understand the desire to address whether X got the short end or not, but those are debates for fans. The officials’ job is to get it right based on the rule book.

    As an official, believe me when I say that those three guys are no happier with Mr. Twitchyfinger than any X fan.

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