Controversial End to High School Basketball Game Highlights Scoreboard Flaw

Gil Imber@RefereeOrganistAnalyst IIJanuary 17, 2012

How valuable is one second?
How valuable is one second?Tom Hauck/Getty Images

A controversial ending to a competitive game during the Johnnie C. Cochran Basketball Classic in Los Angeles, California may have been due to an all too common problem with older model scoreboards.

When Serra and Price began their contest on Saturday night, it was a back and forth contest that saw Serra go on a 28-3 run—followed immediately by an 11-0 run by Price. By the game's final possession, Price led 49-47 and Serra had the ball looking for the tie or game-winner.

That's when the controversy took place. Serra's Emmanuel Ndumanya rebounded a teammate's miss with one second left. Immediately jumping back up and releasing the ball as the buzzer sounded for a game-tying layup—or so Serra thought.

The center or slot official opposite the table ran over to the scorer and waved off the bucket before dashing off the court.

Though several media outlets have made claims that replays are clear cut and that the shot was in time, objective review indicates replays are inconclusive as to whether the ball had completely left the player's hand as time expired.

In the end, it might all come down to physics and a glaring deficiency with an old scoreboard.

Watch any NBA game and observe the arena's end of game procedures. In addition to the mandatory red lights located throughout the backboard and scorer's table structures, the scoreboard itself runs in tenths-of-seconds (e.g., 00.4) and officials are graced with instant replay technology—in high definition nonetheless.

Back to the Price versus Serra high school contest played at the L.A. Center for Enriched Studies, the gym features no red lights on any backboard. High school rules prohibit the use of instant replay outside of state tournament play.

Furthermore, National Federation (NFHS) rule 5-6-2 specifies the primary criteria for judging a high school basketball period over are: 

1.) A red light located behind the backboard

2.) The timer's audible signal, buzzer or horn. Note that the scoreboard's reading of 0:00 is not among the top criteria used to determine the end of a period.

The reason for this is that many older model scoreboards run in full seconds. While an NBA's modern scoreboard might read 00.4 seconds near a game's end, a similar older scoreboard running in full seconds will read 0:00. It suggests the period has expired when it really hasn't.

Scoreboards and synchronized lights are expensive—tabletop and portable models run through the mid-$5,000 range, while wall-mounted units easily approach and eclipse $10,000. That's before the huge installation bill that follows—from moving to mounting to threading electrical wiring.

Simply put, schools by and large cannot afford to upgrade their scoreboards because the shrinking budgets that still exist in education must be allocated toward other necessities, such as replacing dictionaries from 50-plus years ago. 

So in the absence of red lights, that left Saturday's Price versus Serra officials with the timer's audible signal—the buzzer.

In high school ball, scoreboards and their horns for whatever reason sometimes are not completely synchronized—again, an issue of maintenance and priorities.

For instance, when older wiring starts to break down, their scoreboards malfunction or become unresponsive. Occasionally, short circuits cause buzzers to sound at inappropriate times, if they sound at all. 

As such, officials often must line up the shooter and scoreboard to determine a shot's legality—a feat that provides a wholly unnatural angle that rarely allows for an unobstructed view of both player and scoreboard.

In a gym with a scoreboard running in full seconds, the challenge is especially difficult when the ambiance prevents a buzzer from being clearly heard.

In stark contrast, a scoreboard's visual display is never masked by crowd noise. Although it is by backboard supports and brackets.

For the center official, positioned opposite the nearest scoreboard, this precarious situation proved impossible—no red lights, no tenths-of-a-second and a difficult to hear final buzzer.

What is a referee to do?

Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of controversial calls in sport.


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