Monday, March 16, 2015

A Final Word on Montana/Northern Arizona Finish

As you no doubt know, there were some controversial happenings at the end of the Big Sky semifinal game between Montana and Northern Arizona, when Montana player (who is sitting out the year) Jermaine Edmonds ran onto the court with 0.4 seconds left, before sprinting back and diving to the sideline. I wrote a few of my thoughts on my recap post after the game, and have sprinkled in some comments on twitter throughout the past week.

However, it was such a big story, that I wanted to expand on my thoughts a little bit, and walk through why I feel what I feel. First off, in case you somehow missed it, here is the video:

According to what I have heard, the official explanation given to NAU is that no technical foul was called because there was no interference on the play.

It is my opinion, which has been strengthened after talking to Big Sky coaches, and hearing from all types of people associated with college basketball (there was widespread commentary even from national media after the game), that a technical foul not only should have been called, but needed to be called in that situation.

My points:
1) If NAU had thrown the ball in immediately after the basket, especially toward that direction of the court, then presumably that would have necessitated that there was proper interference for a technical foul to be called. Because they didn't, the refs claim there was no interference. But what if NAU didn't throw the ball in precisely BECAUSE there was a guy in street clothes on the court with time on the clock? If you saw that, would you throw the ball in, or would you wait for things to clear? To claim there is no interference appears to be awfully arbitrary.

2) After the Gregory basket, the refs stopped the game (no timeout was called according to the play by play), presumably both to check the clock, and check the replay of the guy running onto the court. If they stopped the game even in part to look at that, that's interference right there.

3) It appears that Edmonds was noted by NAU players, and could have added to some confusion from that side, which would constitute interference. If you watch the video, it appears the player in bounding the ball looked that direction first... Did he turn away because a guy in street clothes is on the court?

4) As noted in the comments here, it is also a major player safety issue. I don't think Edmonds scoped the scene out before rushing and diving back to the bench. If a player was in the way, that's a serious knee injury waiting to happen. Not calling a technical is one heck of a precedent to set.

5) Let's take it out of context... let's say there's an NCAA Tournament game, and the ball is on one side of the court. Let's then say that on the opposite bench, someone saunters halfway on the court and does something on the opposite end of the court (it could be anything: dance, bounce a ball, try to rile up the crowd), but he gets back to the bench before the game changes ends. In theory, he has not interfered with the play, but do you think that's going to stop the refs from giving him a technical foul?

An absurd example, maybe, but under the explanation given, how do you call something like that a technical but say this isn't a technical foul?

Now, it is important to note that the non-call did not necessarily win or lose the game. Even if a technical foul is called, Montana is still likely going to win. NAU would have sent Kris Yanku to the line, an 80% FT shooter. That would make it a 65% chance he makes both free throws, which would have sent the game to OT. Let's say NAU had a 35% chance of winning the OT, being on the road - that means that if a technical foul was called, there's still only a 22% chance to win. In most scenarios, Montana still advances. But the fact that we didn't get to find out what would have happened is, frankly, embarrassing.

I understand that nobody wants to see something like that happen - a game shouldn't be decided in part because a player on the bench had an emotional reaction to a great play. Everyone hates when that helps decide games. But you can't just choose when to selectively enforce the rules.

In the days that followed, the Big Sky has issued announcements to say they were looking into the postgame scuffle (which, curiously, referred to the Montana head coach as "Travis" and NAU coach Jack Murphy as "the head coach at Northern Arizona," but that's another issue for another time), a statement to say they suspended Coach Murphy for one game, and a statement to acknowledge a clock error in the Women's Tournament, but nothing on this incident as far as I can tell. (EDIT: According to this article from the Arizona Daily Sun, the Big Sky affirmed the call as being correct. Consider me unconvinced that there was no interference, as per the rest of my article).

Having written about the league for four years, I can tell you that perception among fans exists that schools like Montana and Weber State get the most favorable calls in the league, to the point that it's not uncommon to hear suggestions that the league is rooting for and doing what they can to give Montana a better chance to win. Let me be clear, I personally do not believe that is the case. But things like this certainly won't help to change that perception.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball


  1. I find it hard to believe Doug Fullerton would be biased toward Montana & Weber since he previously worked at MSU for 17 years, but anyway…

    Here's what I wrote on championshipsubdivision about the Edmonds/NAU deal:

    "Anyway, I don't think the non-technical was the wrong decision. The refs said the ball wasn't live, so Edmonds being on the court wasn't a foul—the ball had already gone through the hoop, the clock was stopped, and the refs blew the whistle so they could review the time. NAU could've inbounded it… but since they didn't have a chance to, Edmonds's transgressions didn't affect play (and NAU shouldn't have even tried to inbound it; their best chance was to hope the refs put more time on the clock anyway). This doesn't seem that much different than when fans rush the court prematurely—there's almost never a technical called there, either.

    Edmonds & the Griz were lucky they got off on a technicality, but they [i]legitimately[/i] got off on a technicality."

    1. I agree I don't think there is bias, but I can tell you I run into people on twitter and on comments here all the time who feel like there is...

      My only problem with that explanation is that it doesn't seem like the whistle blew right away to review it... if you look at the ref underneath the basket, he initially starts to count for five seconds, moving his hand in that motion. After about a second, then he puts his hand up to signal the play to a stop. By that time, then Edmonds is off the court, but he is still counting during the time Edmonds is on the court.

      To me, it's a lot different than fans rushing the court prematurely... in that case, you give the team the benefit of the doubt, because there really isn't anything they can do to control it. When it's someone from the bench, the rules are a lot more clear.

    2. It clearly looked like NAU was actively trying to inbound the ball…and actually they did a fraction of a second after the whistle blew. I’m not buying the “ball wasn’t live” reasoning at all.

      Great breakdown Jon, and I also agree that we do not know if this would have impacted the outcome of the game. Unfortunate to have such a good game mired with this terrible no call.

    3. I don't think the timing of the whistle matters: a clock replay review was inevitable there since the ball went through the basket just before time expired. In other words, there would have been a review stoppage there no matter what.

      You can certainly argue the rule on this should be clarified, but I think the Big Sky officials' interpretation of it is fine given the vagueness of the "ball is live" text of the rule.

  2. I try to leave my tinfoil hat in storage but I agree with Jon that issues like this only perpetuate the belief (unfounded, as it is) that certain Big Sky teams are more likely to receive preferential treatment/calls/etc.


  3. Glad to see you checking up on this situation.....I tried to talk to the Griz faithful about the fact that the person on the court was actually a player (even if he was in civies) but of course they don't agree. There could never be a "live" ball if the inbounder sees an unauthorized person on the floor and waits for that person to be removed. It's over but the ruling was COMPLETELY BOTCHED by our very incompetent officials. After looking at the replay they still should have called the technical and see what happens after that.

  4. Your problem Jon is that you are too damn logical for your own good! It's patently scary that the Commissioner and his entire staff are unable to deduct using basic logic that a technical is necessary because 1) if you don't draw a line in the sand on this kind of bench behavior, it will only be perpetuated, and 2) the health and safety of the players is at risk. Also, you make an amazing point...the player being on the floor should automatically be considered as interference because his mere presence causes confusion with NAU's players and creates an unfair advantage by introducing a new obstacle to the playing surface. #1JacksFan