Syracuse vs. UNC-Asheville: Analysis of Referee's Calls

Gil Imber@RefereeOrganistAnalyst IIMarch 16, 2012

UNC-Asheville had hoped to make history Thursday evening by becoming the first 16th seed to defeat a No. 1 seed during the NCAA Basketball Tournament otherwise known as March Madness.

Instead, the first-seeded Syracuse Orange were able to knock off the No. 16 seed, thanks to some fortuitous calls and scores late against UNC-Asheville.

Throughout and especially after the UNC-Asheville vs. Syracuse contest, fans complained of several close calls by the referees they felt were gross misses.

Let's go to the tape—it's time for a video analysis.

First up is a play called Goaltend, Basket Interference or No-Call (click here for an animated image of this play).

Disposition: Incorrect No Call (INC)

This is a type of call that has been visited before both at the college and NBA levels, and not for good reasons.

In January, officials missed a goaltending call with less than 30 seconds to go during the West Virginia vs. Syracuse game.

This is a very difficult call to make, for it requires judgment as to when the ball first contacts the backboard.

However, goaltending is not the call we are after on this play.

Because the Syracuse defender contacts the basketball while it is within the cylinder, the proper call here is basket interference. The main difference between interference and goaltending is that interference may be perpetrated by either offense or defense and the ball need not have been released on a shot attempt for interference to be called.

Basket interference can be called on a pass, for instance.

Upon further review from the optimal angle for this play (shown above), it is apparent the officials missed this call.

This game's second highly-touted play is called Lane Violation Against UNC-Asheville or No-Call.

Disposition: Correct Call (CC)

When CBS/Turner next assigns commentators and broadcasters—and especially analysts—to its March Madness games, it would be extremely helpful if said personnel had some knowledge of NCAA basketball rules.


In college, any player who does not occupy a lane space must wait until a free throw-attempt first strikes the backboard or ring before crossing his respective restrictive line.

In the case of Asheville's J.P. Primm, because he was lined up outside the three-point arc, he was restricted from crossing that boundary until the ball first struck the backboard. This is a fairly simple call and was correctly enforced.

The NBA does not have this restriction; hence the confusion and incorrect assessments given by the broadcast crew. Accordingly, this call was correct for a collegiate game.

Finally we have that controversial Syracuse vs. UNC-Asheville Out of Bounds or Foul Call.
Disposition: Incorrect No Call (INC) or Incorrect Call (IC) by the book; Correct Call (CC) in practice.

I'll explain.

This is one of those bad habits of officiating type of calls. We have two players, who have an equal right to an inbounds pass collide in midair and the ball fall out of bounds. The only question for the official is whether the contact between the two players is enough to merit a foul call, and if so, on whom shall that call be made against?

If the official rules incidental contact and no foul, the pass deflected off Syracuse Orange's player.

If the official rules significant contact, it appears the UNC-Asheville player would have been responsible, for he created the contact against an airborne player (not to be confused with an airborne shooter, who enjoys separate privileges).

When officials see this type of a play with a ball deflecting out of bounds, informal customs dictate to "pass" on the foul by awarding the basketball to the offended team out of bounds, or in this case, Syracuse.


However, the rules book does not support "passing" on fouls, so when NCAA Men's Coordinator of Officials John Adams joined the March Madness studio show on TruTV, he had no choice but to call this play exactly as prescribed by the rules: claiming that referee Ed Corbett missed the call by awarding the ball out of bounds to the incorrect team.

In the end and strictly by rule, this play ends with a foul against UNC-Ashville or the ball being awarded out of bounds to UNC-Ashville—there is no comprise as is the case with "passing" on a foul.

Because we don't know if Corbett would have called a foul or not nor if he was "passing," it is impossible to determine whether this is an Incorrect No Call (as would be the case if a foul should have been called) or an Incorrect Call (as would be the case if no foul should have been called).

Either way, this call is incorrect by rule, though it may be correct in practice.

In the end—and isn't that a fitting phrase—fans remember controversial calls, especially towards game's end, as especially atrocious if it negatively affects their team.

In any given game, officials might call an excellent 39 minutes of basketball, but if that final 60 seconds contains just one high profile screw-up, the entire officiating crew is labeled as poor.

In this game, the officials got two high profile calls wrong by rule, though they got many, many more right throughout the contest that we aren't talking about.

Who really wants to go back and see all the great calls the officials made? For whatever reason, fans don't enjoy that nearly as much as berating a complete stranger for wielding the supernatural power of deciding basketball games.

And of course, my favorite: The fix is in since Ed Corbett works the Big East, a conference Syracuse just happens to play in.

Here's a little secret: About 98-odd officials work the NCAA Tournament and—you guessed it—a good number of them happen to have worked Big East games over the course of their various careers.

Corbett also works the ACC and the SEC, to name a few other conferences. Is this to imply he shouldn't call a UNC or Duke game?

Ironically, Corbett was the official who called a controversial (yet correct) foul against a Louisville player with just 0.6 seconds remaining during a tie game vs. West Virginia.

A foul is a foul is a foul, unless you don't see a foul. Everyone makes mistakes, even officials.

After all, they're only human.


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


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