The ending of UCLA’s thrilling comeback win over Cal last Saturday was full of controversy, and judging by the hits on our website over the last day or so, it seems like that controversy has yet to die down yet. We’ve already discussed in detail the non-call on the "foul" on Ryan Anderson (for the record, I agree completely with TwistNHook’s assessment), but something still bothers me about Josh Shipp’s game-winning HORSE shot.
Now, I didn’t come here to whine about the unfairness of it all, how the shot was clearly illegal and should have been waved off. I don’t know that that’s the case, and in any event, I’m over it; it’s time to move on. Cal’s got a Pac-10 Tournament game against Washington tomorrow, for gosh sakes, and if they’re still worrying about circus jumpers from behind the backboard, they’re not going to win, whether Jon Brockman is able to play or not.
No, I’ve got a larger, more general argument to make. First off, here’s the rule in question:
Rule 7, Section 1. Out of Bounds—Player, Ball
Art. 3. The ball shall be out of bounds when it passes over the backboard from any direction.
Now, here’s a quote from an LA Times article, one I’ve seen used a number of places to justify Shipp’s shot:
According to Hank Nichols, the NCAA’s national coordinator of men’s officiating, the rule is often referred to as the Wilt Chamberlain rule because its original intent was to prevent a team from lobbing the ball over the backboard to an immensely tall and talented player because the play couldn’t be defended. "The intent wasn’t to stop a circus jump shot," Nichols said.
Whoa now. This is a bad, bad argument. A dangerous argument, even, and the offense is worse because it comes from the NCAA’s national coordinator of men’s officiating. You cannot say, "Oh, we’re not going to enforce this rule in this instance because that wasn’t the original intent of the rule." When you do that, you’re not enforcing the rules; you’re enforcing the supposed intent behind the rules, which are not actually the rules, and besides which are not agreed upon by everyone beforehand. When you do something like this, you essentially decide, in-game, to editorialize upon and even rewrite the rules. That’s not OK. This is not Calvinball, folks.
The rules are there for a reason, and they’re agreed upon by all participants beforehand. Both sides go into a game (hopefully) knowing the rules, and they set their strategy based on the expectation that those rules will be enforced. For example, if I’m defending someone along the baseline, and that person gets behind the backboard, I will position my defense with the expectation that if that person throws the ball over the backboard, it will be considered out-of-bounds. If someone then scores on me and I find out later that that rule only applies in certain Wilt Chamberlain-esque situations, I’ll be quite angry.
Here’s another example, this time regarding college football. In 2006, in an attempt to speed up the game, a new rule was enacted stating that the clock started when the ball was kicked off, instead of when it was received. At the end of the first half in a game against Penn State, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema ordered his kickoff team to intentionally run offsides on the kickoff in order to cause the clock to run down. Understandably, Penn State coach Joe Paterno was upset, as this ticky-tack loophole in the rules cost his team a chance to get the ball back and try and score. It was a poorly-written rule, and it was repealed the next year. Nevertheless, the officials enforced it, as they should have, because those were the rules as written, and everyone agreed to them beforehand.
I’ve also heard people claim that the shot was OK because it went over the corner of the backboard, instead of coming from behind the backboard. This, too, is bad argument. The rule simply states "over the backboard from any direction". There’s no ‘corner’ or ‘behind’ mentioned anywhere in there. Making this sort of argument is, once again, making an interpretation of the intent behind the rule, and it basically ignores what the rule actually says. I’m sorry, but you just can’t do that.
Here’s a much better justification for allowing Shipp’s shot:
[Pac-10 officiating coordinator Bill] McCabe said [official Dave] Libbey told him after the game that it was "very, very close, so close that I couldn’t take away the basket."
The replay shows that the ball goes extremely close to the corner of the backboard. Multiple angles still make it a close call.
OK, I can live with that. If you were unsure whether the ball went over the backboard, don’t call it. I thought it did. Many people thought it did. Josh Shipp certainly thought it might, else he wouldn’t have made such a high, arcing shot, guaranteed to clear the backboard. But you’re the official, so I’ll live with it. And I understand that because such a determination is a judgement call, it cannot be reviewed by video replay. I’m OK with that too. It sucks for our Bears, but them’s the breaks.
None of this is meant to take away from Shipp’s incredibly acrobatic shot, and I certainly don’t want to whine about poor Pac-10 officiating. In fact, I did not know the rule when I was watching the game, and when Shipp’s shot went it, my first reaction was to blame whichever deity it is who’s in charge of the outcomes of basketball games. His favoritism of the Bruins is disturbing, to say the least; clearly, Cal fans will have to step up the number of goats they sacrifice before the start of intercollegiate athletic contests.
Was Josh Shipp graced by the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s noodly appendage, much to the dismay of Cal fans everywhere?
Personally, I think Shipp’s shot should be legal. I see nothing inherently unfair about it, and if you can hit a crazy-ridiculous shot like that with the game on the line, more power to you. If the rules prohibit such a shot, we should change the rules. But not during the game. The idea that what’s important is the intent behind the rules, and not the rules themselves, is fallacious and dangerous, and everyone needs to get such an idea out of their heads immediately.
Anyway, that’s all I want to say about this game. Let’s move on. And if Cal can get past Washington tomorrow, they’ll get a shot at revenge on Thursday. Miracles happen to underdogs too, right?