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An analysis of the NFHS Rules governing the Stepinac LuHi timeout debacle

In last night's NYS Federation semifinal, Long Island Lutheran was assessed a technical foul for calling a timeout that it allegedly did not have with 8.3 seconds remaining in a tied game. LuHi's bench objected to the technical on the grounds that it had one timeout left, but the ruling on the court was that LuHi had exhausted its timeouts and the technical was assessed.

Stepinac proceeded to make both technical free throws, and they made two more after being fouled on the awarded possession, resulting in a 76-72 final.

Controversy ensued following the game when LuHi head coach John Buck insisted that he had only called four timeouts before he called one with 8.3 seconds left, vowing to review the game video to prove his point.

Sure enough, Buck tweeted later that evening that he had reviewed the video and confirmed that LuHi still had a timeout remaining, meaning the technical foul was not warranted. 

Buck also tweeted that LuHi was protesting, imploring the New York State Federation to reassemble the teams on Saturday with 8.3 seconds left and awarding LuHi possession.

New York State Federation officials met with Buck on Saturday morning and, although they apparently acknowledged that there was an error, they ultimately rejected the protest.

Robert Zayas, the Executive Director of the NYSPHSAA, tweeted the rationale underlying the New York State Federation's determination.

While not clear from the tweet, Zayas is presumably referring to the National Federation of High School (NFHS) basketball rules. There are a number of them that are relevant and warrant analysis here.

Scorer's Duties

NFHS Rule 2, Section 11, Article 6 provides:

A scorer shall . . . record the time-out information charged to each team (who and when) and notify a team and its coach, through an official, whenever that team is granted its final alloted charged time-out.

The question here is whether Coach Buck was notified when LuHi allegedly called its final alloted charged time-out (i.e. the one called before the timeout called with 8.3 seconds left). The rule provides this notification was supposed to be done through an official.

Based on Buck's tweet above, it seems like this did not occur. If it had, the controversy that ensued when LuHi called timeout with 8.3 seconds left would have taken place earlier because LuHi presumably would have disputed it just as it did with 8.3 seconds left. Also, it seems unlikely that LuHi would have called a timeout with 8.3 seconds left if it had been previously notified it already burned its last one. To do so would have been a self-inflicted wound. A fatal one at that.

NFHS Rule 2, Section 11, Article 11 provides:

A scorer shall . . . compare records with the visiting scorer after . . . each charged time-out, . . . notifying the referee at once in the event of any discrepancy. If the mistake cannot be found, the referee shall accept the record of the official scorebook, unless he/she has knowledge which permits him/her to decide otherwise. . . . A bookkeeping mistake may be corrected at any time until the referee approves the final score. The scorebook of the home team shall be the official book, unless the referee rules otherwise.

Although it is unclear, it seems unlikely that the scorers compared notes on the number of timeouts in the manner set forth in the above rule. If they had, the discrepancy would have been discovered before things escalated with 8.3 seconds left. Again, even though the official scorebook would have controlled had the discrepancy been reported to the referee earlier, LuHi would have been armed with the knowledge that the official scorebook showed them with no timeouts and would probably have not called one with 8.3 seconds left (even if they disagreed with what the official scorebook showed).

The above rule is also significant because it expressly says that bookkeeping mistakes may be corrected at any time until the referee approves the final score, an implication that such errors cannot be corrected after that.

Correctible Errors

NFHS Rule 2, Section 10, Article 1 provides:

Officials may correct an error if a rule is inadvertantly set aside and results in . . . Awarding an unmerited free throw.    

NFHS Rule 2, Section 10, Article 2 provides:

In order to correct any of the officials' errors listed in Article 1, such error must be recognized by an official no later than during the first dead ball after the clock has properly started.  

Reading the above rules together, to the extent the technical free throws were "unmerited," in order for the officials to have corrected the error, the mistake would have needed to be "recognized" no later than the first dead ball after the clock started.

From the accounts of the game, that deadline would have been when RJ Davis was fouled on the possession that Stepinac was awarded from the technical. Based on the reported facts, the error was not "recognized" by the officials before this deadline. In fact, the game officials never recognized an error at all, instead properly relying on the official scorebook in accordance with Section 11, Article 11.

Officials' Jurisdiction

NFHS Rule 2 Section 2, Article 1 provides:

The use of any replay or television monitoring equipment by the officials in making any decision relating to the game is prohibited.

Note: a state association may permit game or replay officials to use a monitor during state championship series contests to determine if a scored goal at the expiration of time in the fourth quarter or any overtime period (0:00 on the game clock) should be counted, and if so, determine if it is a two-point or a three-point goal.   

The foregoing rule appears to be the one that Robert Zayas was referring to in his tweet (see above). However, this rule seems directed at the officials during the game and not necessarily the New York State Federation reviewing matters after the fact. 

NFHS Rule 2, Section 2, Article 4 provides:

The jurisdiction of the officials is terminated and the final score has been approved when all officials leave the visual confines of the playing area.

The Note at the end of NFHS Rule 2, Section 2 provides, in pertinent part:

State associations may intercede in the event of unusual incidents that occur before, during or after the officials' jurisdiction has ended or in the event that a contest is terminated prior to the conclusion or regulation play.

The events during the last 8.3 seconds of the Stepinac LuHi game can certainly qualify as "unusual incidents." As such, the New York State Federation, as a state association, did have some apparent discretion even though it ultimately decided to maintain the status quo.

Although there would appear to be an argument that a state association such as the New York State Federation is not precluded from considering video evidence in evaluating a protest after a game (as opposed to the officials considering it during one), it is difficult to criticize the articulated concerns of setting a bad precedent. Given the omnipresence of video throughout social media, one can only imagine what kind of floodgates would be opened by honoring a protest based upon video evidence presented after the conclusion of a game. 

On the other hand, this was a New York State Federation semifinal and the often thorny issue of whether the error in fact directly affected the outcome in light of intervening events is virtually absent (the last four points of the game were the direct result of the technical).

A debacle for sure.


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