Earlier this week, Burke High School (Nebraska) hosted a late-season basketball game against the visiting Columbus Discoverers.
In lieu of their usual home white uniforms, the Burke Bulldogs donned pink jerseys in a charitable effort: Assistant coach Tom Law purchased the pink uniforms specifically for that game to be auctioned off afterward, with proceeds benefiting the Make-A-Wish foundation.
Burke Athletic Director Kyle Rohrig signed off on the idea, and all seemed fine until halftime, when the Bulldogs took a one point lead into the locker room.
That's when Columbus head coach Dave Licari spoke with the officials and asked if the pink uniforms were legal. If not, he argued, a penalty should be assessed. Licardi had reportedly been tipped off to the uniform violation by Columbus AD John Krogstrand.
Columbus' own away uniforms are red, though the hue of pink used on Burke's uniforms still provided a decent contrast between the two colors.
Nonetheless, after a brief conference, the officials accordingly issued a technical foul against the Bulldogs for the uniform infraction and Columbus converted both ensuing free throws.
NFHS Rule 3-4 mandates that all home jerseys shall be white, while Rule 10-5-4 specifies a technical foul is to be issued directly to a head coach who allows his players to participate while wearing illegal uniforms. Only one technical foul is charged regardless of the number of the offenders, while there is no statute of limitations for this penalty: the infraction is penalized when discovered at any point during the contest.
By rule, this call was correct. Burke's special jerseys were in violation of NFHS Rules, the penalty for which is one direct technical foul charged to the offending team's head coach.
Charitable uniforms and equipment have caused trouble before.
In Oct. 2010, dozens of high school football officials in Seattle ditched their standard black whistles in favor of pink whistles in an effort to raise breast cancer awareness. The officials also donated their game fees to the Sun G. Komen for the Cure foundation.
When the Washington Officials Association caught wind of the unauthorized color switch, they rendered punishment, banning the involved officials from several playoff assignments and instituting a two-year probation to the offenders.
Given that precedent, it is fairly clear why the officials took the course of action they did.
Officials recognized the charitable spirit with which the uniforms were worn and withheld the penalty until the opposing team complained at the half, at which time the officials were forced to penalize Burke for a clear rules violation. Put bluntly, this is one of the more technical T's a team can receive.
When Burke planned their charity contest, they allegedly forgot to inform any other party—their opponents at Columbus, the Nebraska School Activities Association and the game's officiating crew.
Columbus superintendent Troy Loeffelholtz cited communication as the main issue: Had Burke told Columbus of their intentions, they wouldn't have protested the legality of the pink uniforms.
In the absence of receiving a waiver or permission from the state or local athletics office to deviate from the home jersey color requirement, officials were forced to penalize the "obvious uniform violation by Burke." Per NSAA assistant director Jon Dolliver, "Unfortunately, there's not a lot of wiggle room in the rule book for that."
Who is primarily responsible for this gaffe?
By propriety and with great fairness, the officials handled this situation correctly. By strict interpretation of the rules, they did not—they should have penalized the infraction when discovered at the beginning of the contest—though who on their own really would want to issue a technical foul because a team is raising funds for the Make-A-Wish foundation?
Yet the hypothetical troubles that could arise for ignoring the rule during pre-game duties are significant: Had Licari not protested at halftime and Burke held a one-point lead at the end of the fourth quarter, what would the officials have done if Licari chose that opportunity to question the pink jerseys?
Surely, a technical foul must be called in that situation (again, no statute of limitations until all officials have left the visual confines of the playing area). A referee cannot ignore the rules when a coach or participant asks when such a clear infraction be penalized.
Had Columbus then made both free throws, Burke would have lost—in a roundabout way—due to charity.
As it turns out, Columbus pulled away to a 62-47 victory, rendering the technical a moot point.
Basketball rules bestow officials the authority and mandate the penalization of infractions when discovered. There are no appeal plays, such as batting out of order in baseball.
Referees, umpires, judges and the like are enjoined by their states, conferences or leagues to master the rules of the game and to exercise authority in an impartial, firm and controlled manner.
Though not entirely correct by strict interpretation of the rules, the officials made the best of their situation at Burke and avoided calling the "cheap" technical until Columbus forced their hand.
By then, there was no choice but to penalize the infraction of the rules.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.