Feb 24, 2014

Jumpin' Jim

sports by killer

Ultimately, what we want is consistency.  Right?

No matter how they --the umpires, referees, judges, or whatever other title has been hung on the magistrates of an athletic competition-- are calling a given sporting contest, we the fans want to see all sides treated equally.  Oh sure, in the intense heat of a moment we may rejoice over an unjust ruling that favors our team or our guy, but once that boiling fervor has settled into its usual simmer (and assuming our interest in the game is truly heartfelt rather than coldly monetary), the reasonable among us quickly realize that a victory unfairly won is a cheapened one.

It's a point I have made before.  What prompts me to do so this time is what I see as a glaring omission in the analysis of the big brouhaha that happened in the closing seconds of Saturday night's basketball game between Duke University and Syracuse University.  If you, dear reader, are a sports fan, you are probably at least passingly familiar with the incident already.  Even if you're not, you may have already seen clips on YouTube or something.  Still, form demands that I take a moment to describe what happened...

With little more than ten seconds remaining in regulation time and his team trailing 60-58 at Duke, Syracuse's C.J. Fair got the ball along the baseline and drove toward the basket.  Duke's Rodney Hood moved to counter the attack, arriving in the nick of time to plant his feet and stand tall in the face of Fair's bull rush.  In response, Fair went airborne, lofting the ball one-handed toward the basket while his body collided with Hood's.  Both players fell to the hardwood in a tangle of long limbs and sleek torsos.  The ball went into the basket.

Atlantic Coast Conference referee Tony Greene immediately blew his whistle to stop play and call a foul.  That was no surprise: a collision such as this warranted that somebody be assessed with an infraction.  In little more than a heartbeat, Greene had to decide who was at fault.  If his judgment was that the offensive player, Fair, had crashed into a defender who had established position, the call would be charging.  The basket would not count, and given those specific circumstances the defender would be awarded free-throws-- an opportunity for Duke to widen their two-point lead.  If, on the other hand, Greene felt that the defensive player, Hood, had failed to establish his position before impeding his opponent's drive, the call would be blocking.  In that case the basket would count, tying the game, and Fair would be awarded one free-throw-- an opportunity for Syracuse to take a one-point lead.  All of this with about ten-and-a-half seconds left in the game, so the decision was an important one.

Greene's call: charging.

Syracuse's coach, the 69 year-old James Arthur "Jim" Boeheim [BAY-hime], erupted like Vesuvius.  He jumped up and down violently, tore at his suit-coat, helicoptered his arms, ran out to the middle of the court, stuck his index finger in Greene's face and let loose a loud torrent of heated words that were both repetitive and expletive-laden.  A bit of amateur lip-reading on my part has me thinking his favorite is the one relating to the semi-solid excrement of male bovines.

Greene listened to about two-and-a-half seconds of Boeheim's tirade before giving him a technical foul.  Boeheim didn't let up.  He followed Greene to the scoring table, continuing to let him have it with both proverbial barrels.  Greene responded by assessing the coach with a second technical foul and ejecting him from the game.  Two police officers escorted Boeheim to the locker room.  In 38 years of coaching at Syracuse, it was just the second time he had been ejected.

Duke was awarded four free-throws.  They won the game 66-60.

There was of course much yammering, both vocal and written, in the wake of the incident.  Boeheim was described as being much more calm at the post-game press conference, but decidedly not contrite.  He was quoted as saying the charging call was the "worst call of the year."  Paradoxically, he also said the game was "tremendously well-officiated."  How serious he was about either statement is a matter of debate.  Boeheim did say his reaction to the charging call was caused not only by his belief it was the wrong call, but also that the call was going to cost his team the game.  Almost universally, commenters opined that it wasn't the charging call that cost Syracuse the game; it was Boeheim's double technical.

Personally, I thought charging was the right call.  I wasn't too surprised by Boeheim's reaction, though, because of an incident that happened earlier in the game-- an incident that to the best of my knowledge no-one, not even Boeheim, has mentioned.  See if you can spot the parallels...

With a little more than ten-and-a-half minutes left to play and the game tied at 41, Duke's Jabari [juh-BAR-ee] Parker got the ball on the wing and drove toward the basket.  Syracuse's Michael Gbinije [BIN-ih-gee] already stood between Parker and the goal.  Gbinije shuffled his feet just a bit to set himself, clasped one hand over the other wrist in front of his abdomen and actually leaned back slightly in the face of Parker's bull rush.  In response, Parker went airborne, lofting the ball one-handed toward the basket while his body collided with Gbinije's.  Both players fell to the hardwood in a tangle of long limbs and sleek torsos.  The ball went into the basket.

A whistle blew and a foul was called: blocking against Gbinije.

Boeheim didn't fly into a rage, but he clearly didn't like the call.  ESPN analyst Jay Bilas --who is a Duke alumnus and who is very good most of the time but who is also an unabashed apologist for certain players, most notably Jabari Parker-- said (paraphrased), "Well, that's a tough call for Jim Boeheim to take, but Jabari Parker put Gbinije in a position to commit that foul."

(*ahem*)  My response...
No, Jay, he didn't put him in a position to commit that foul.  He ran over him, plain and simple.  The call clearly should have been charging against Parker.  In fact, it was much more clearly charging than the later collision between Fair and Hood, yet the call went against Syracuse both times.  Either this call was a bad one, or that call was a bad one, or the refs were officiating the game with a bias toward Duke.  Let's call it what it is and stop smooching selected rumps and [favorite expletive]ing our way through certain portions of the broadcast, shall we?

Of course, my conviction that both plays were cases of charging is based (so I am told) on an outdated understanding of the guidelines that govern charging v. blocking.  Oh yes, boys and girls, there are brand-spanking new rules-- because the old ones, which worked for decades on end, have recently been deemed archaic.  Why?  Money.  It is the same reason football now allows offensive linemen to claim they were baited into a false start.  It is the reason why defensive backs can now be flagged for face-guarding.  It is the reason baseball umpires squeeze the strike zone and why the commissioner, the owners, the managers, the general managers and the vast majority of the players looked the other way for a generation while certain guys shot themselves full of steroids in the clubhouse bathroom.  Money, money, money and money.  Fewer charging fouls means more points.  More points means more paying customers, both in the arena and on television, because more points is about the only thing most viewers truly grasp.

Whether I truly grasp the minute details or not, the fact remains both the Parker-Gbinije collision and the Fair-Hood collision should have been ruled the same way.  Whatever the nuances of the new guidelines, either both should have been charging or both should have been blocking.  Calling one of them one way and the other the other makes people suspicious.

Because, ultimately, what we want is consistency.  Right?

P.S.... Bud "But I Thought It Was B-12" Selig must go.

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