UNC vs Duke: Curry's Uncalled Traveling Violation a Well-Documented Anomaly

Glenn PettyAnalyst IApril 5, 2017

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 08:  Austin Rivers #0 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates with teammates Seth Curry #30 and Quinn Cook #2 after hitting a game-winning 3 pointer to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 85-84 during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 8, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tar Heel Nation is unhappy with the non-call of a traveling violation on Seth Curry before he buried a three-point bomb during Duke’s furious late rally on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill. 

Blue Devil fans counter with, “Well, yeah, what about this uncalled foul and that uncalled foul? The Tar Heels were (fill in the blank) the whole game!”

Or something like that.  And that exchange happens somewhere between somebody after every game.

Hey, it’s basketball.  Calls get missed—especially in the paint where big bodies are banging around.  But this call was a little different.

Let’s preface this by acknowledging that ACC refs don’t blow calls on purpose.  Any suggestion to their face that they would do so would likely end in fisticuffs.  And well it should.

That said, even the best officials make mistakes.  That’s why coaches work the refs so hard. They aren’t trying to consciously win an argument or influence a call; they are conducting subconscious warfare hoping at some point they will get the benefit of the doubt on a split-second decision. 

What is so different about this particular error is not that it occurred at a critical time, but that it occurred out in the open.  It wasn't under a crowded basket with big bodies banging around, but in the open court in full view of everybody in the building and on TV. 

Also worthy of note, it occurred directly in front of the Duke bench, and the infraction was so obvious that the ESPN broadcast crew pointed it out immediately after only seeing the play in real time.  On the broadcast, you can hear the boos and see the Tar Heel faithful signaling traveling to no avail, while Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale note the uncalled infraction.

Finally, it was also very noticeable because this wasn’t a judgment call.  It didn't depend on a subjective judgment the way calls for charging, blocked shots, goaltending and shooting fouls do. 

No, traveling is a simple non-judgment call that only requires that the official count the number of steps taken by the player.

Typically, most traveling calls in a game are called on big men, mostly forwards and centers who shuffle their feet prior to making a move requiring a dribble.  A traveling call on a guard is very rare, and perhaps that is part of this equation as well.

We suppose it’s possible that none of the refs could believe a seasoned vet like Curry would take four steps.  Yes, four.  Watch the video closely:  He takes a step as he catches the ball, then he skips that foot forward, then he takes two more steps.  Do the math, that’s four. 

One could argue the first step didn’t count since he was making the catch, so that trims it down to just three steps.

Interestingly, several possessions later ESPN showed the replay above, which speaks for itself.

Did it change the outcome of the ballgame?  Probably not.  Did Coach K’s non-stop wrangling of the refs make a difference when a critical play unfolded directly in front of him?  Who knows?  Did Roy Williams’ indignation earn him a make-up call on the next possession?  Maybe.

In the end, they are all unanswerable questions.  It’s all part of the game, and the play will remain a footnote to a classic rivalry game for years to come.