The “controversial” Pitt/Butler ending

Didn’t watch it live, as real life interfered with the NCAA tournament, but have since caught it, as all of you have.

But before I saw the play, I heard about it from the announcing crew for the game, Tim Brando and Mike Gminski.  They dedicated quite a bit of time over the last minute of their UConn/Cincinnati broadcast (since that game was decided) to discussion of the Pitt/Butler ending.  When I heard Brando ask for Gminski’s opinion, I girded up my loins for a big attack.

Yet again, I didn’t get it.

Here’s my transcript of what Brando and Gminski said (I’ve left out the play-by-play of the game they were covering when it occurred in the middle of this).  While I don’t agree with everything they say, it’s still quite a robust defense of the game officials, and it is deeply appreciated.

BRANDO:  While we have a moment, Mike, I would like to get quickly your thoughts on the conclusion of game number one, because it’s going to be such a hot topic tomorrow.  Your overall thoughts on what was one of the most bizarre finishes we’ve ever seen.

GMINSKI:  One, I thought it was a terrific play that Butler ahd to get Smith the layup inside.

BRANDO:  –Yes.—

GMINSKI:  I thought it was a good look.  And then I thought it was two brain cramps defensively by two players.

BRANDO:  –Both veterans.—

GMINSKI:  Yeah and uh, Mack I thought never should have been in the vicinity of that play, and then Pitt on the offensive rebound to put Howard on the line.  I thought they were absolutely the correct calls.  […]  Just having looked at it and thought about it, I absolutely think the referees got it right.

BRANDO:  I do too.  I will go back to what happened in ’89 to our friend John Clougherty, now the man that’s in charge of officials in the ACC.  And John Adams was on at halftime of our game tonight, this game, and he explained exactly as we did, a foul is a foul regardless of how many seconds into or how many seconds are left in a basketball game.  I thought John Clougherty was unfairly criticized at the time on the Rumeal Robinson play [see the 1:53 mark here], and had it not been for the nature of PJ Carlesimo as a head coach on the receiving end of that call, it might have been very ugly, but there’s no doubt that the philosophy of the game in terms of the way it was officiated changed after that.

GMINSKI:  Most times, Tim, when the referees make a mistake on calls they don’t make…

BRANDO:  –That’s right—

GMINSKI:  as opposed to calls they do make.

BRANDO:  –I agree.—  I think  again depending upon what part of the game you come from, Mike, I think your philosophy and perspective will change.  If you love the college game, you know the correct calls were made.

Interesting.  I don’t know that I agree with the bit about no-calls being bigger mistakes than calls.  And I”m also not sure about Brando’s last comment.  But a historic look at officiating is always welcome–the Clougherty call is one of those interesting moments of do-you-call-that-in-that-situation?–and Gminski’s immediate instinct to talk about players is important.

But Mack nearly knocked the dribbler out of bounds, and Robinson’s wrap-around smack wasn’t a ticky-tack.  Everybody seems to agree.

This was made abundantly clear by guest commentator Phil Martelli on TBS/TNT’s post-game show.  He was as clear as could be:  “I think we have to be emphatic here.  It was not controversial.  Not at all.  The referees were not wrong in that situation.”

Seth Davis agreed.  He remarked that he had looked at Twitter and blogs and examined the opinions of sportscasters, and they all agreed, which is rare, he joked, since they normally never agree on anything.

In fact, even the coaches and players were showing little disagreement.  Pitt’s Jamie Dixon pointed out that the first 39 minutes and 53 seconds mattered as much or more as the final 7 seconds.  Butler’s Brad Stevens remarked: “If he was impeding his progress to get the ball, then it’s a foul.”  Shelvin Mack, who committed the first foul, remarked: “I was so mad at myself,” rather than at official Terry Wymer.  And a “disconsolate” Nasir Robinson, whose final foul wound up ending Pitt’s season, said: “I blame myself.”  Not the official, Antonio Petty, mind you.  “I’m smarter than that. I have been playing this game too long to make a dumb mistake like that. I blame myself.’’

So, there it is.  Overenergetic players let the situation get the best of them, and the officials called at as they saw it.  Broadcasters, players, coaches, NCAA administrators, and everyone else says it was called correctly.  Let’s dust off our hands and call it done.

And yet…

and yet…

leave it to ESPN to still say there’s a reffing controversy.

In the article with the above quotes, writer Dana O’Neil still manages to indicate that the officials should have let the fouls go and ended the game. No, really.  Check out this bit here:

“Here I am, I think we won it after Andrew’s shot,’’ Howard said. “And there were still two more possessions. How does that happen?’’

How it happens is two great players make bad decisions and an officiating crew thrusts itself into the endgame maelstrom, calling two fouls in the final three seconds that put an anticlimactic finish on a game that deserved better.

Huh?  Calling fouls that exist is “thrusting yourself into the endgame?”  Didn’t Mack thrust his hip into the maelstrom?  Didn’t Robinson thrust his forearm in there?

Here’s the bit that’s weird.  Officials in the St. John’s/Rutgers game were rightly criticized for not “thrusting themselves into the ballgame” at the end there.  So if Wymer and Petty swallow their whistles, they’re given the Burr and Higgins treatment.

And, amazingly, even O’Neil was critical of Burr and Higgins.  In this radio interview, she isn’t unkind to referees, pointing out (from a story she wrote on Higgins last year) that they feel horrible when they make errors.  But, nonetheless, she criticizes the refs, saying that all three officials had a bad day at the same time.

So when officials neglect to call the game at the end, O’Neil criticizes them.  When officials call the game at the end, O’Neil criticizes them.

Dana, which version of you should we believe?

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was your goal to stir up officiating related controversy to ESPN rather than to be logically consistent with yourself.


About Paul Hamann
I am a basketball referee in Washington State, working mostly high school games.

One Response to The “controversial” Pitt/Butler ending

  1. Paul Hamann says:

    OK–this got me wound up enough that I just emailed Dana O’Neil. I’ll keep you posted here.

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