When is a foul not a foul?


<sarcasm> Oh, thank goodness they stopped this mugging. I'm sure he has marks on his arm after that. </sarcasm>

Much has been said, on Twitter and across the internet, about the and-1 Jake Kelly got to help lift Indiana State past Missouri State 70-69 Wednesday night in Terre Haute. I honestly don’t have anything new or interesting to say about it, but the whole situation has reminded me of a conversation I had many times during my days as a sports editor. The conversation centered around the questions “Is a foul always a foul?” and “Should referees swallow their whistles a bit during crucial junctures of a game?”

Usually this conversation was had with the great Scott McCaulley, the voice of sports in Taney and Stone counties. He’s called more games than he can probably count and has the added perspective of being the son of Nolan McCaulley, a refereeing institution in southwest Missouri. Scott took the basic argument that a foul is a foul is a foul, and should always be called that way whether it’s the first or last minute of a ballgame. That case was often made with one big “But…” No official wants to determine the outcome of a game.

I took the other side of this coin. Fouls are not like human beings. They are not all created equal. Sometimes an official can, and will, allow certain things to go at Point A in a game, but call it at Point B. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If a referee is going to send a player to the free throw line, or wipe a basket off the board, and that’s possibly going to be a major deciding factor in a game, he’d better make darn sure it’s a blatant violation.

Here’s my case:

Exhibit A: “A game should be called consistently for all 40 minutes,” said John Clougherty, a former college basketball official and supervisor of officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference, in an SI.com column by Seth Davis. “But I would add that if you are going to call a foul in the final second and put a guy at the line, then that foul has to be an obvious foul that everybody can see. There should be no question.”

Clougherty is uniquely qualified to offer an opinion. He called Seton Hall’s Gerald Greene for fouling Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson in the final seconds of overtime in the 1989 NCAA title game. Robinson hit both free throws and Michigan went on to win. Need a refresher? Go here and start paying attention around the 1:53 mark. If you see the foul, let me know.

“Now that we’re (21) years removed from that play, I would like to have had a clearer foul than the one we had,” Clougherty told Davis. “Instinctively, I thought there was a foul and I blew the whistle.”

Not that he thinks it’s the wrong call, but in hindsight it’s not as clear-cut. Certainly sounds like he’d consider swallowing the whistle in a similar situation.

Exhibit B: Watch this video. On the back, or no on the back?

My guess is that, at some point in the game, that gets whistled and the basket is negated. But, it’s the final seconds and there’s some question if he was on the back or just rebounding from behind – which is legal. Do you really think the officials let that go for all 40 minutes of the game? Doubtful.

Exhibit C: It’s hard to draw many conclusions from the number of fouls called in the final minutes of a basketball game, because there is sometimes a need to commit fouls in the final seconds – a need unique to the sport. But what about in other sports? Is there some whistle-swallowing going on? One blogger analyzed penalties called in NHL games and found a significant drop in the number of penalties called in the third period. From his analysis:

In the 2009-2010 season, there were 12328 penalties called, which works out to about 10 per game (as there are 1230 games in each regular season).

The breakdown by period is:

First period: 4062
Second period: 4420
Third period: 3745
Overtime: 101

The interesting thing to note here is that there’s a drastic difference in Hooking and Interference between the first two periods and the third period. In fact, those two penalties decrease 27% between the second and the third periods. All other calls (not including Fighting) decrease just 8%.

So are players better defensively in the final period of a game? Not likely, especially as their legs get tired and their positioning gets worse. Just like in basketball, hockey players are more likely to commit a foul when they’re tired and unable to get in good defensive position.

Conclusion: Officiating did not cost Missouri State this game. I cannot emphasize this enough. But that does not change the fact it was a poor foul call. Nobody likes to see a game end that way, not even the winning coach.

“Jake definitely got fouled. He’s got marks on his arm. It’s a gutsy call for an official to make. You hate for the game to end like that, but it was a good call,” Jake Lansing said.

Not gonna agree with everything you say there, coach, but we can all agree on this: You hate for a game to end like that.


Wins are like girlfriends…

Nafis Ricks

Nafis Ricks drew praise from his coach and his opponents' coach in Missouri State's win over Southern Illinois.

Troy University football coach Larry Blakeney has said it better than anybody: “Wins are like girlfriends. They’re not all gonna be pretty.”

True dat, Larry. True dat.

So I’m not at all concerned that Mighty MO State had to sweat a little bit in a 64-51 Missouri Valley Conference win over Southern Illinois at JQH Arena Jan. 12. From here on out, style points are irrelevant and there is no such thing as a bad, or ugly, win. The “W” is all that matters.

And that’s what they got against the Salukis, a traditional nemesis, Wednesday night in a pretty workmanlike performance. There was nothing stellar, glamorous, or otherwise eye-popping about this one. They just flat got it done, basically with two big runs. The first was an 18-2 surge in the first half to erase an early SIU lead. The second burst was 8-0 after the Salukis had chipped a 14-point lead down to four.

Credit freshman Nathan Scheer – whose praises we’ve sung on this very blog – and senior Nafis Ricks for making the key plays. Scheer scored just five points, but he made them count. He got two on a putback early in the second half, temporarily giving the Bears a seven-point cushion with 12 minutes to play, and later drained a 3-pointer to make it a 52-41 game with 6:34 remaining on the clock.

Ricks, meanwhile, knocked down the jumper that preceded Scheer’s big trey and drew the fourth foul on SIU point guard Mykel Cleveland. Cleveland later fouled out. SIU coach Chris Lowery said his team played “haywire” when Cleveland was out of the game and paid this semi-backhanded compliment to Ricks in The Southern:

“They fought the storm, and Ricks hit two big baskets. When we were down four, he hit the next two plays. He didn’t do anything the whole game until they needed him.”

Wow…that’s quite a compliment coach.

Missouri State is still the lone unbeaten in Valley play six games in, only one up on both preseason favorite Wichita State and surprising Indiana State. At 14-3 overall, the Bears are starting to put together a pretty good resume for the NCAA Tournament. But it only takes a slip-up or two to derail all this momentum, and there are two prime slip-up opportunities coming right at the Bears.

The first is Sunday, Jan. 16, at Bradley – another trap game. The Braves are winless in Valley play, but Carver Arena has rarely been kind to the Bears, who will have to be refreshed and focused to pull out a win.

From there it’s on to Terre Haute Jan. 19, where Indiana State has been nails on the Hulman Center floor. The Sycamores are 6-0 there this season, 3-0 in Valley play. Their average margin of victory in Valley home games this season? Try 18 points, in defeating Bradley, Illinois State and Northern Iowa. Yes, Bradley and Ill. State are both off to 0-6 league starts, but that 70-45 win over UNI was an eye-opener. The Sycs are the early surprise in the MVC, sitting in second place at 5-1, so this game is anything but a gimme.

Should the Bears sweep this road swing, though, they’ll be 8-0 in Valley play, 16-3 overall, and carrying some significant buzz into the home stretch. That stretch includes six of their final 10 league games on the JQH Arena floor and one crucial Bracket Buster road game. More chances to build momentum, or lose it.


Required Reading:

Bears find a way to win (Springfield News-Leader)

Clark: Scheer rewards Martin’s trust (Springfield News-Leader)

Salukis’ comeback falls short at MVC leader Missouri State (The Southern)

Seck kicks himself, even after double-double (The Southern)