Badgers Burned by Refs

Tyler Sloan, Editor in Chief

There are few aspects of sporting events as frustrating as a bad referee call that changes the outcome of a crucial game. The University of Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team is now all too familiar with this annoyance following a close 68–63 loss to the Duke University Blue Devils in the NCAA Division I Championship. After the dramatic conclusion to March Madness, sports news outlets flooded with a slow-motion video of a play that sparked controversy and potentially cost Wisconsin the national title.

With just one minute and 26 seconds left in the final quarter of the year, the ball flew out of bounds off the hands of the Badger’s Bronson Koenig and forced a turnover — or did it graze the fingertips of the Blue Devil’s Justise Winslow? This has been the source of debate for avid college basketball followers. As the video continues circulating, the general consensus has been that Winslow’s fingertips very clearly skimmed the ball before it went out of bounds. However, after a rushed evaluation of the play, the referees awarded Duke possession, and Tyus Jones proceeded to sink a three-pointer to extend the Blue Devil’s lead to eight points. There is no way to know if this play would have changed the outcome of the game, but that is precisely the reason for frustration.

Many sports fans have hoped that in an era of instant replay and high-tech equipment, bad calls would become a thing of the past. Clearly, these followers have their doubts now. A team of four referees reviewed the play for two minutes, watching instant replays and consulting analysts, but somehow came to a different conclusion than almost everyone else watching the game — including the NCAA Supervisor of Officials John Adams. In an interview with SiriusXM College Sports on Tuesday, Adams only added fuel to the fire with one of the most absurd statements made by someone who is supposed to be monitoring the officials who hold the power to make or break a game.

“I saw it after they had left the monitor and actually thought about: Is it in my prerogative to get up, run over to the table, buzz the buzzer and tell them to come back and look?” Adams said. “That’s how critical I thought the play was, and concluded that this is a job for the guys on the floor and I’ve never done this before, why would I do it tonight and perhaps change the balance of the game?”

Adams also said in the same interview that officials did not see the same angle of the play that viewers around the country did. This statement was later corrected on Wednesday in an interview between ESPN and NCAA Vice President Dan Gavitt, who said that officials did indeed see the same footage that was being simultaneously broadcasted. In their attempts to restore fans’ trust in the officiating calls being made about their beloved teams, Gavitt and Adams both failed miserably.

Of course, there are those rare calls that could go either way, even with instant replay and a team of analysts. Those 50–50 decisions are part of the nature of playing a sport, and as an athlete you learn to roll with the punches most of the time. But when a national title is on the line and over 28 million people are watching, the officials and analysts need to be willing to take the necessary time to make the right call. Otherwise, teams like Wisconsin will always be left wondering, “What if?”