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?
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.