Behind the Backboard: Referees Make Correct Call on Buzzer-Beater, Game-Winner
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With just seconds to go in the second half of Friday night's Wagner College vs. Santa Clara basketball contest, the Seahawks and Broncos were tied at 62 points apiece and looked poised for overtime.
That's when Wagner sophomore Kenneth "Kenny" Ortiz stepped in.
After a wild, backboard hitting attempt by Seahawks senior guard Tyler Murray, Ortiz was in the right place at the right time to set up one of the craziest finishes to a college basketball season thus far during the 2011-12 NCAA season.
Ortiz corralled the wild carom, heaving up a frantic prayer just fractions of a second before the final horn sounded, the clock struck zero and the backboard's red lights illuminated.
His prayer was answered as the insane shot attempt hit the front of the rim, bounced off the glass and dropped through the hoop.
Initially ruled a valid attempt by the official positioned opposite the table—who has final shot responsibilities—the call was confirmed upon a conference of all three officials.
Watching video of this sequence posted on the Wagner Seahawks' YouTube channel, it is clear at least one commentator (the analyst) is a Santa Clara fan: "No! That's no good! No good! NO! NO!"
The biggest criticism and argument against the on-court ruling was that Ortiz's shot should have been disallowed because it crossed over the vertical plane of the backboard on its flight from the "R" on the end line where Ortiz released the attempt.
If that is what indeed occurred, the basket should have been disallowed under Rules 7-2-3 and 9-3-2 of the NCAA Basketball Rules Book, which both state, "The ball shall be out of bounds when any part of the ball passes over the backboard from any direction."
However, replays do not support this assertion: The call on the court is inconclusive at best if not an outright confirmation of the center (slot) official's ruling of "score the goal."
The ball appears to have traversed the plane of the top of the backboard while still outside the backboard's horizontal plane, which is legal under NCAA rules.
If any call during the final sequence could be challenged, it was Murray's initial shot attempt, which hit the backboard and ricocheted towards the end line.
Rule 7-2-3 of the NCAA Rules Book states, "The ball shall be out of bounds when it touches...the supports or back of the backboard."
While replays confirm Ortiz's attempt was good, they are inconclusive as to Murray's try.
Murray's attempt appears to initially strike the side of the backboard—which is in play and in bounds—before suddenly changing course and bouncing towards the end line.
There is a distinct possibility the ball briefly touched the red light bars which form a rectangle behind the backboard, in which case the correct call would have been to declare the ball out of bounds at that point, seconds before Ortiz could obtain possession.
However, there is also a considerable chance Murray's shot struck the curved padding on the side of the backboard, in which case the correct call would have been the call on the floor—the ball remains live and sets up Ortiz for his wild winning shot.
Replays as to whether the ball struck the ground in or out-of-bounds after hitting the backboard are inconclusive.
Did the officials get the call right?
When evaluating plays, calls are either definitely or probably correct, incorrect or inconclusive. While the officiating crew might review the tape and objectively declare this call to be inconclusive, sports aficionados are very subjective depending on their own fan-based bias.
In the end, this sequence of calls is certainly inconclusive after consulting replay several times—Seahawks fans seem to think the officials got the call right, while Broncos fans suggest the call was dead wrong.
In the United States and many other countries, the criminal justice system follows a doctrine known as the presumption of innocence, or "innocent until proven guilty."
As a result, the call on the floor must be upheld and considered correct, for lack of clear and convincing evidence to declare otherwise.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective analysis of close or controversial calls.
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