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Pitt-Butler refs erred on late foul calls

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  March 20, 2011 12:00 PM

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CLEVELAND -- Everybody's talking about the wild ending of the Pitt-Butler game.

That includes me.

But my take appears to be a bit different than everyone else's, and it all comes down to my premise that there is one, and only one, question every official, at every level, must ask himself or herself prior to every game.

That question is "Why am I here?"

The answer to that question is NOT "To demonstrate my thorough knowledge of the rule book."

The answer is NOT "To please my supervisor and thus secure future assignments."

The answer is NOT "To please the coaches."

The answer is "To ajudicate the smooth flow of the game, using the rules, and when applicable, my common sense."

Were the officials in question utilizing my philosophy, the Pitt-Butler game would have ended with no fouls being called. Butler would have won, 70-69, courtesy of A.J. Smith's lay-up with 2.2 seconds to play.

The foul on Shelvin Mack should have never been called. Was it stupid of him to get so close to Gilbert Brown on that in-bounds pass which carried to midcourt? Yes. Was there some contact? Yes. But no one is asking the key question.

If Gilbert Brown had caught that ball, what would he have done with it?

The answer, of course, is nothing. He would have sailed OB, and that would have been that. There would have been nothing for him to do, and the game would have been over.

Plain common sense should prevail in a matter like this.

Had the correct non-call been made, the game would have been over and Butler would have been a deserved victor, right then and there.

But common sense did not prevail, and thus Gilbert Brown went to the line. He made the first, tying the score. The second one spun out and Matt Howard had control of the rebound.

Stop!

That should have been it. Score tied, let's go to OT. But Nasir Robinson grabbed him. Oh, yes, he did. Now I must interject that the rebound foul, be it in the game's first second or last, is a pet peeve of mine. If a player grabs a rebound, and then is hit, grabbed, whatever, but doesn't lose the ball, why should that be a foul? Let's just play. If he loses the ball as a result of a foul, or if there is an overt, way out of line physical act perpetrated upon him, then, OK, call a foul.

In this case, there was less than a second remaining. Common sense would dictate that the only fair thing at that point would be for the teams to settle it in OT. But because the ref felt he had to adhere to the letter of the law, even though it was a total abrogation of common sense, he blew the whistle and put Matt Howard in position to win the game, which he did by making the first shot and deliberately missing the second.

The problem, of course, is that the people who supervise officials want to eliminate judgment as much as possible. Blowing the whistle in these moments is the easy way out. God forbid true justice be the issue. Let's enforce the law.

In the end, justice was served. Butler deserved to win the game. But the final score should have been 70-69, not 71-70.

P.S. With that number 1 seed, in this particular season, Pitt has now blown the best chance it will ever have of winning the national championship.

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