College basketball referees have something of a bad reputation. But then again, sometimes they really earn it.
Our unfortunate latest case in in point: This weekend’s second round of March Madness, with seasons, legacies and berths in the Sweet 16 on the line.
Let’s start with Sunday’s matchup between eight-seed Arkansas and one-seed North Carolina. Carolina’s up just one with 45 seconds to play.
Tar Heels point guard Joel Berry II drives right with the shot clock running down. Then he commits an obvious travel and what could easily be called a charge before throwing up a wild attempt that a teammate scoops up and scores. Carolina goes up 68-65 and goes on to win the game 72-65.
Check it out for yourself.
As compiled in the non-call’s aftermath by For The Win, basketball fans on Twitter were incredulous.
So, what was the last NCAA tournament game we’ve seen that was well-officiated?? I can’t recall.
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 20, 2017
The block/charge call may be the most difficult call in sports. But doesn’t that last UNC play have to be something? Block? Charge? Travel?
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) March 20, 2017
Unreal game by the Hogs! Hate to see the refs lose this one for them! Block? Charge? Travel? Call something!!
— Matt Reynolds (@ReyRey_5) March 20, 2017
Carolina can never talk about refs again. Ever.
— Kennardawg (@DukeForum) March 20, 2017
Arkansas had already let a late lead slip away, and it’s not like this one non-call alone completely defined the outcome of the game. But if that’s a Carolina turnover instead of a basket, then it’s very, very easy to imagine a different outcome in which Arkansas advances to the Sweet 16 instead of seeing its season end.
Meanwhile, this weekend’s second entry into the officiating Hall of Shame may not have been quite as consequential — but it was at least as jaw-dropping. And again, the better-seeded team benefitted.
In Saturday’s second round matchup between eight-seed Northwestern and one-seed Gonzaga, the underdog Wildcats are hanging tough in an upset bid. They’re on a 23-8 run and have chopped a 20-point Bulldogs lead to just five. There are five minutes to play when Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon drives to the rim for a dunk.
Except he’s blocked by Gonzaga’s Zach Collins — at first glance, that is.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins goes berserk on the sideline and is called for a technical foul, but replays show he’s incensed for good reason: Collins actually reached through the rim to deny Pardon’s dunk.
With five minutes to play when the goaltending non-call occurred, it’s even harder to say here that one bit of officiating defined an entire game. But this is what we do know: Northwestern’s gritty 23-8 run ended with the block that should have been a goaltending violation, and Gonzaga took back control of the game en route to a eliminating the Wildcats from March Madness.
If the goaltending violation is called, it’s not hard to imagine Northwestern keeping its momentum and comeback rally. Then who knows how the game ends?
So egregious was this missed call that the NCAA released a statement admitting the mistake after Gonzaga’s win. The statement was released during Collins’ post-game news conference — and the Northwestern coach’s face as the NCAA mea culpa gets read aloud is quite something to behold.
Bad calls happen in college basketball, as in all sports. No one’s arguing that.
With so much on the line and on such a big stage, though, these two examples make the leap from simply cringeworthy to straight-up outrageous. One hopes they’re only bumps in the early road of this year’s March Madness tournament.
But with the field narrowing, the stakes raising and the spotlight intensifying, future screw-ups likes those will only become more and more glaring.