Posted by: wordofexcellence | April 1, 2011

NCAA Musings but especially The Orange

Syracuse University is where I matriculated as a college student.  It’s where I was able to see – live and in person – Floyd Little, who is one of the newest inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He and Larry Csonka, who went on to power the Miami Dolphins to a Super Bowl victory, were a one-two combination in the backfield during my freshman year.  Tommy Coughlin, who’s now the New York Giants football coach, was the wingback on that team.  Those were exciting times.

Our basketball team was a year removed from the Dave Bing era (Jim Boeheim, the current coach, was his backcourt mate), and though we had good talent, in those days you needed excellent talent to make the NCAA tournament.  Our biggest win that season was against Louisville, led by Wes Unseld, a superstar himself.  We made it to the NIT (National Invitational Tournament – a big deal back then), where we lost our first round game to Ira Harge-led New Mexico.  It was a dispiriting way to end the season, but it had been a delightful year, and we always had next year and a group of upcoming sophomores who’d just completed an undefeated freshman season.

I saw my first-ever lacrosse match that spring, between SU and Johns Hopkins, and I was enthralled. Never before had I seen such action and excitement the likes of lacrosse could bring. I’ve been a fan ever since, and it’s wonderfully gratifying to see ESPNU covering college lacrosse so well these days when SU is ranked number 1 in the nation.

By the way, the SU women’s basketball team is competing into the third round of the Women’s NIT this month, having won their first two games in the tourney.  I’m not a big follower of women’s hoop, but it’s my alma mater after all, so I’m pulling for them to be successful.

I wasn’t able to watch last weekend’s NCAA tourney game between the ‘Cuse and Marquette, and only caught the highlights (lowlights for us on the losing side) of a 66-62 loss.  I was able to see the backcourt “violation” that was called on the fatal inbounds pass with 51 seconds remaining in what then was a tied game.  I am quite familiar with the rules of the game, but didn’t realize (neither did the game officials!) that the call was incorrect.

So, this morning, I arrive at work, turn on my computer and discover on the opening page of Internet Explorer that “NCAA admits ref flub” is a sub-headline.  Clicking on the link is only natural for any basketball fan.  Imagine my chagrin to find that the ensuing headline reads, “NCAA admits to error in Syracuse loss.”

It turns out that the rule on inbounds passes was misapplied, and that Scoop Jardine was not guilty of a violation as he received the pass from his teammate.  The gaffe was immediately followed by a three-point basket by Darius Johnson-Odom, a Marquette guard, making the score 62-59. 

We had a marvelous year, winning 26 games a year after losing Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku to graduation – all major components of a very successful Orange team in the 2010 season. I have no complaints about how things turned out on the whole, but it’s enormously deflating to learn three days later that the officials not only blew the whistle on that play, but that they blew the call as well.

I have a healthy dose of respect for basketball officials. My father, Walter Akerley, officiated for many years, and later became Commissioner of the local Board of officials.  I have met some of the best ever to blow a whistle in the state of Connecticut, and though I never endeavored to take the exam to earn my own black and white shirt, I volunteered for several years with Newington’s Park and Recreation Department’s youth basketball program, making calls all day on too many Saturdays to count.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and learned just how difficult it is to see every play. Actually, it’s impossible to see everything on the floor.

Sour grapes don’t fit into my mouth, so I’m not crying about this error on the part of the officials.  But it sure has been a very difficult 2010-11 season for the men in black and white (and for the teams their errors have affected).  There have been other controversial occurrences in this year’s NCAA tourney, and those of us who follow Big East basketball know quite well what transpired in Madison Square Garden this month.

At this juncture, we have to hope that the Round of 16 and the Final Four won’t be altered by a game-changing mistake, leaving us to fear that the less-worthy team might have been victorious. Errors, clearly, are part of the game, and we’ve all seen players make major mistakes in the heat of the action (I was there, in New Orleans, when Chris Webber called his fateful illegal timeout). 

I think all any college hoops fan can ask for as we head to the final weekend of the season is for well-played, well-officiated and entertaining games. If we have our favorite teams, we’ll all be cheering for them.

Will Cinderella dance this year?

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