Rutgers loses under debatable circumstance: game clock discrepancy

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The inventor of the timing device used in No. 1 Tennessee’s 59-58 win over No. 5 Rutgers, suspects human error led to the disputed ending of Monday night’s game.

The game clock appeared to pause for more than a second just before reaching zero, and Tennessee made a pair of foul shots with two-tenths of a second remaining.

“I can only conclude that we won the game in regulation and ask that the NCAA basketball committee take this into consideration when they seed the teams,” Rutgers athletic director Robert Mulcahy said.

Precision Time Systems inventor and president Michael Costabile said there is plenty of room for human error in running the game clock. At issue is whether or not Rutgers’ Kia Vaughn fouled Nicky Anosike before time expired.

“The system works really, really well,” said Costabile, who watched the game on TV. “Have we had somebody hit the wrong button? Yes.”

The Southeastern Conference and Big East said Tuesday that both leagues’ coordinators of officials spoke with the game officials and clock operator.

“The officials discharged their duties properly and there is no indication that anything improperly was done by anyone involved,” the joint statement said. “There will be no further comment on this issue as the leagues, institutions, coaches and teams look to move forward.”

Television replays showed the game clock seemed to pause at two-tenths of a second for about 1.3 seconds before running to zero as Anosike came down with an offensive rebound and was grabbed from behind by Vaughn.

Officials replayed the video and ruled the foul came just before the buzzer. Anosike calmly stepped up and hit the two free throws to take the victory.

The Precision Time device, which keeps time for all NBA games and many at the college level, uses small microphones attached to the referees’ whistles that communicate wirelessly to devices worn on the referees’ belts which start the game clock. When the device picks up sound from the whistle, the clock stops.

The official must hit a button on his belt pack to restart the clock.

At the same time, the official timekeeper manually controls the clock. Whichever signal is picked up first – the sound of the referee’s whistle, the click of the belt pack button or the pressing of the timekeeper’s button – officially controls the clock.

Costabile said because the clock seemed to pause before reaching zero indicates to him that either an official or the timekeeper may have stopped the clock, anticipating Anosike would be fouled, and then restarted it when that wasn’t immediately the case.

“That can take as much as 0.8 seconds to 1.5 seconds,” he said. “That’s telling me people froze up. It’s only as good as someone pushing the button.”

The Southeastern Conference assigned Bob Trammell, Tina Napier and Bonita Spence as the game’s officials because they work several conferences, including the SEC and Big East.

Mulcahy said his concerns were that the officiating crew neither asked the timekeeper to review the clock nor used a stopwatch while watching the replay monitor to check for inconsistencies.

“It’s one thing for human error to occur. That happens, we accept that,” he said. “It’s entirely another thing when the appropriate steps aren’t taken to correct it.”