Human beings are imperfect. This very much includes referees.
Being a sports official is extremely difficult. Most kids (except for special cases such as Joey Crawford) dream of being athletes, not referees. Athletes get saluted after hitting game-winning shots. Referees want to leave the court anonymously and quickly. The less they are seen or thought of, the better.
It’s a tough line of work. Calls will be missed, and every fan or television viewer instantly knows about each mistake, especially with the benefit of replay and the ability to freeze-frame clocks. Officials deserve a lot more empathy than they receive.
The end of Saturday’s college basketball game between the Ball State Cardinals and the Eastern Michigan Eagles was the result of something more than mere imperfection from referees who were honestly doing their best. What happened in a final, frantic sequence inside the EMU Convocation Center was pure incompetence and nothing else.
Before watching the clip, here’s the game reset: Eastern Michigan, in white, led Ball State (red), 87-85, in the final seconds. The Eagles grabbed a rebound, and the Cardinals went for the steal — quite aggressively:
Remember those “What’s wrong with this picture?” items in the comics pages of the newspaper? (Heck, remember newspapers?) Your task is to find three or five or however many details which should not exist in a picture.
In this sequence, one could find at least five or six individual attempts at a Ball State foul that are not called. In general, the flurry of hacks or rakes at the Eastern Michigan player was somehow not whistled — not at any point in those few seconds. Amazing.
Then, when No. 33 for Ball State (Ryan Weber) and No. 25 for Eastern Michigan (Ethan Alvano) fight for the ball, it appears that a held ball existed.
A lot has to be said about this: Officials are taught that if what appears to be a held ball exists for more than a split second, it is recommended to call a jump ball. To be a little more precise about the matter, if there is a tug-of-war-like action sequence, officials are supposed to err on the side of calling the held ball, so that one player will not throw elbows in an attempt (usually innocent, but sometimes not) to wrest the ball away from the opponent. The quick held-ball whistle is an attempt to promote player safety.
Yes, if control of the ball solidly belongs to one player over the other, or if the ball is loose and not firmly grasped, no held-ball whistle should be blown. This play, however, appeared to meet the criteria for a jump-ball whistle.
There was no call.
That’s hardly the end of it. The problems with this sequence were only just beginning.
Go back to the video and watch it again. As you can see, Weber (Ball State) is in the process of wresting the ball from Alvano (EMU). In the act of taking the ball from Alvano, Weber clearly travels. This is why a jump ball should have been called in the first place, of course: to override the travel call. The movement with the feet was a product of the extended battle for the loose ball.
However, if no jump ball was called, a travel was easily the next call the officials needed to make. They did nothing.
Weber, after fending off Alvano for the ball, was then met by No. 20 in white, Blake Brown. You can plainly see that Weber gained possession near the baseline. He spins out of that partial trap without dribbling for roughly eight feet, give or take a few. He switches his pivot foot at least twice if not more.
One question: HOW WAS THIS NOT A TRAVEL?
A better question: HOW WAS ANY OF THIS NOT WHISTLED AT ALL, EVER, FOR ANYTHING?!
Weber, allowed to cover a massive amount of real estate without a single whistle, fed teammate Francis Kiapway for the game-winning three with 0.7 seconds left.
Ball State 88, Eastern Michigan 87. Final.
Give a hug to an Eastern Michigan fan today if you know one.