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Timeout mess reveals flaw in NFHS basketball rules

In a controversial ending to Friday night's New York State Federation semifinal in Glens Falls, Long Island Lutheran was hit with a technical foul after it called timeout with 8.3 seconds left in a tied game.

The technical foul proved to be decisive. Not only did LuHi lose the opportunity to hold for the last shot of the game, but Stepinac connected on four consecutive free throws, the two awarded by the technical and two additional freebies after LuHi was forced to foul on the awarded possession, resulting in a 76-72 final.

The controversy? LuHi Head Coach John Buck insisted that his team still had one timeout left. Unfortunately for LuHi, the official scorebook showed otherwise, leaving the officials with no choice but to assess the technical.

The official scorebook was ultimately incorrect, as Coach Buck presented video evidence that apparently established that a timeout called by Stepinac with 5:29 left in the first quarter was mistakenly charged to LuHi.

Buck's protest to the New York State Federation the next morning was denied, apparently on the grounds that the official scorebook controlled and that video evidence could not supersede it.

While National Federation of High School (NFHS) basketball rules clearly provide that a technical foul is to be assessed if a team requests an excess timeout (see Rule 10, Section 2, Article 3), the NFHS rules also require that a head coach be notified (warned) when his/her team burns its last timeout.

According to Coach Buck, this did not happen, at least not to his recollection.

Coach Buck apparently did not realize it at the time, but the advance notice/warning is not just common practice, it is expressly required by the NFHS rules.

NFHS Rule 2, Section 11, Article 6 provides:

The scorer shall . . . [r]ecord 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 allotted charged time-out.

In addition, NFHS Rule 2, Section 7, Article 12 provides:

The officials shall conduct the game in accordance with the rules. This includes . . . [n]otifying the head coach when a team is granted its final allowable time-out.

While we cannot speak for the NFHS basketball rules committee, the logical rationale underlying the foregoing rules is to provide a fair and adequate warning to a head coach when he or she has burned his or her last time-out. If the team fails to heed this warning and calls another TO (a la Chris Webber), it suffers the consequences of a technical foul.

The flaw in the NFHS rules is that there should be an exception that provides "no technical foul shall be assessed if the head coach was not previously notified/warned, as required by these rules, that his/her team expended its final allotted time-out," or words to that effect. Without such an exception, the two rules providing for the notice/warning have no teeth, serve no purpose and are rendered meaningless. 

Some have leveled criticism at the LuHi bench for not being more proactive or diligent in ascertaining what the official scorebook showed.

While fellow coaches are in the best position to evaluate whether such an inquiry is customary or within the realm of "best practices," the fact remains that the NFHS rules provide that the scorer and the official are supposed to notify a head coach when a team burns its last timeout. The rules do not place the burden on the coaches and their assistants to continuously quiz the scorer to ascertain whether they have reached the limit.     

To illustrate the anamoly in the NFHS rules, consider a bank foreclosure. The law requires a default notice be given before a bank can foreclose on a home. Why? Innocent mistakes happen. Mortgage payment checks can get lost in the mail. Spouses can miscommunicate over who was going to make the payment. It's only fair that a warning be given first. A bank can't skip this step and take someone's home. It's that simple.

The same logic applies with the NFHS rules at issue here. A technical foul without the required notice/warning is simply unfair. A scorebook mistake is the equivalent of the mortgage check being lost in the mail. The notice/warning is a safety valve that prevents an innocent mistake from having severe consequnces.

Bottom line, the NFHS basketball rules committee should fix this so it doesn't happen again.

They can do this in one of two ways. Option A is to provide that no technical shall be assessed unless the advance warning on exhausted timeouts was properly given. Option B is to remove the advance warning/notice altogether and place the burden on the coaches to ascertain timeout status from the official scorer throughout the game.

Failure to take action on this could result in another mess like the one that occurred in Glens Falls last weekend.


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