The time-worn philosophy that basketball officials should swallow their whistle in the final seconds of play and ‘’Let the players decide the game” often raises its ugly head in late February and during the playoff season.

The high school game is 32 minutes long; it is not 31 minutes and 57 seconds long. Players play the entire game, coaches coach the entire game and officials should referee the entire game.

Here is a common scenario. It is the last week of the regular season. The top two teams in the league are playing for the championship, with playoff seeding implications hanging in the balance as well.

Coming down to the final few seconds of regulation the game is tied. Team A has the ball on the low blocks and A1 puts up a shot that caroms off the rim and there is a battle for the rebound. A3 gets control and just as he begins the shot for the put back he gets hammered on the wrist by B1 and an instant later the final buzzer goes off. The shot falls short.

The lead official, who had a good look at the play rings up B1 for the foul and the gymnasium, goes wild. The officials confer and decide to put .4 of a second back on the clock. A3 sinks both free throws, putting Team A up by two and Team B is not able to get a shot off before time runs out. Team A wins.

Now is when the defeated and the naysayers cry out loudly “Let the players decide the game!”

I say the players did decide the game. B1 helped decide the game when he fouled A3. A3 helped decide the game when he canned both free throws.

Some advocate, even some officials say, pass on the foul and if A3’s shot does not go in, then go to overtime. They think that is the “safe’ way to officiate these types of situations. Let the players decide the game in overtime.

I say “safe” correlates with lack of courage. If the contact in the last second would have correctly been called as a foul in the first quarter then it should be correctly called a foul with .3 of a second left in the fourth quarter. If the contact wasn’t a foul in the first quarter, then it should not be called a foul in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter either.

If officials are not going to penalize illegal contact near the end of a close game they should take their whistles off and leave the floor the last ten seconds and let the kids duke it out and decide it that way.

Officiate the whole game. The players will decide who wins.

ray lutz

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