Official Discretion

In the first half closing seconds of a hotly contested game in front of a boisterous home crowd, visiting player A-1 steals the ball from B-1 near mid-court and dribbles quickly to the basket trying to score before time expires.

During A-1’s power drive — an apparent premature horn is heard and a startled A-1 launches a shot that caroms off the backboard.

The official closest to the action blows their whistle and it is quickly determined the errant horn did not come from the scorer’s table, but from the rambunctious student section of the home team, who are now enjoying their moment in the spotlight.

The mystery of the phantom horn-blower is quickly solved as the officiating crew observes a policeman and school administrator escorting a fist-pumping student from the gym to the wild cheers and raucous laughter of the surrounding home team faithful.

Now what punishment the law or the school has in store for this rowdy urchin is of little concern to you. The matters that needs to be settled quickly and fairly are what is the consequence, if any, of this interloper’s action, and how will you resume play.

The answer – and by that we mean, guidelines and parameters – can be found in the NFHS rule book under the heading of, Officials’ Additional Duties (Rule 2-8).

Now this rule has enough elasticity and strength for an official to use as an effective tool to climb out of any unforeseen mess; or to get you knotted up and hung by it.

Rule knowledge and the proper personal demeanor by the acting Referee on the game will keep the dirt off of the officials and quickly clean up the damage.

To paraphrase Rule 2-8, it puts the responsibility of spectator behavior, as reasonably can be expected, on the home team management, and allows officials to punish either team for disruptive behavior by their supporters, but advises discretion be used when considering such action.

party-blowerAlso keep in mind, you are additionally and more firmly supported by Rule 1-18, which prohibits the use of any type of artificial noisemaker and only allows for music and sound effects during pregame, timeouts, intermission and post-game.

We at “60 Seconds on Officiating” interpret this rule to mean, a technical foul should not be the first tool out of your bag to rule on unsportsmanlike behavior by someone outside the scope of a player, coach or bench personnel. However, if it appears, “the prisoners are running he asylum” then a technical foul or fouls, or forfeiture is within the officials purview.

But this cannot emphasized enough — just because you have the power to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.

Immediately following an unusual situation that disrupts play – in this case, a bogus horn – an official should blow their whistle to formally stop play, make eye contact with both head coaches, in particular Team A’s coach who is going to be understandably upset, then come together as a crew to quickly discuss what happened.

After coming to a consensus on what you believe occurred – a fan of Team B sounded the horn while a player on Team A was driving in for a layup – you need to decide, in legal parlance, on the best remedy to ‘compensate’ Team A for their ‘pain and suffering.’

You should not award Team A two points for the field goal you assume they would have scored; so the best alternative would be to award Team A the ball to resume play at the point of interruption.

Now you need to determine, Down and Distance. That is to say, where will the ball will be inbounded, and how much time should be put back on the clock.

In our scenario, that could be at the spot of the steal, and a good faith estimate at how much time was on the clock at that moment.

One could make a reasonable argument to inbound the ball closer to Team A’s basket, but that would also mean reducing critical seconds off the clock.

Either would be a fair and reasonable solution, and the referee in charge would call the two head coaches together at the scorer’s table to explain the ruling.

With this outcome, the home team (Team B) is found to be blameless for the unfortunate and embarrassing incident and therefore was not penalized with a technical foul.

The referee should ask the home team administrator to make an announcement that any further conduct delaying the game will result in a technical foul to the appropriate team.

If you officiate long enough you will see everything from celebratory streamers to angry parents come out of the stands and onto the court during game action.

Now you can’t change what just happened; but you can remedy the situation fairly by focusing on making the affected team whole without punishing the team whose spectator interrupted play.

NFHS Rule Reference: 2-8; 1-18

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6 thoughts on “Official Discretion

  1. I would like Tim’ s thoughts on my ruling
    As the play is described A-1 is trying to beat the horn after a steal. I see a clear path to the basket as no mention is made of a defender to beat. I then look at this rogue horn as an intentional act to stop the advantageous path to the basket. “If” this was an intentional grab from behind by a player we would rule intentional foul. We clear the lane for 2 free throws then award the ball at a spot nearest to when the infraction happened. Why? The grab was an intentional attempt to stop the clear path to the basket. This sets up the rogue horn as a technical foul situation for the exact reason as I would have ruled an intentional foul. You can not grant the 2 points so the most fair ruling is to grant two free throws to the A team and then give them the ball for a throw in with the entire B team in defensive position (they would not have had during the original sequence after the steal).
    I am incomplete agreement with Tim’s statement with a modification for this exact play; Just because you have the power to do something doesn’ t mean you have to, unless you should.

  2. I disagree with OhioDon on this situation for the reason that by giving Team A 2 free throws and the ball, the penalty for an intentional foul, is the same as giving the Team A player a free layup to make the basket, since it seems as Team A player had a clear path to the basket. Yes, granted, he/she may not have made the layup, nor the free throws, but free throws AND the ball would defeat the purpose of Rule 2-8 in my opinion. The only reason to grant 2 free throws and the ball from the point of infraction for an intentional fouls should only happen if a player on the floor commits the intentional foul. In 30 years of high school officiating, have never had this happen, but have had parents from time to time come out of the stands, and we dealt with that accordingly. Thank you!

  3. It is clear to me that a technical foul should be assessed on the crowd for two reasons. First,the blown whistle is clearly against the rule governing home crowd behavior. Second, it is the fairest way to adjudicate what happened. If there is a determination that there should be time left on the clock then the rule governing crowd behavior technicals should be used to determine the resumption of play after the free throws were taken.
    In good conscience I could not leave the floor without giving the visiting team a fair chance of winning the game that was denied them by illegal(by rule) action of crowd behavior.
    Fairness to both teams must always prevail for an official

  4. Afraid I can’t agree with any of you because players are always instructed to “play the whistle”, “not the horn.” The whole scenario is moot in this case.

  5. We must remember these are amature athletes.

    To Cliff, I would disagree to the fact that you “play the whistle”. I officiate 3 sports for over 26 years and college basketball for 22. I have had instances with inadver. horns that interupted play. We would stop play and resume at POI. This would make certain that all teams see that we as officials are being fair to both teams.

    We also must remember in “rival”, heated contests that crowd situations should be addressed in pre game and that as officials we meet with Game Management in regards to our expectations.

    To Hank, I would disagree to the fact that a Technical Foul would incite chaos to the fire. Pulling both coaches together, explaining our decision to continue from POI and announcer making it clear further disruptions will give the offended team 2 shots and the ball will stop that madness.

    Bottom line is we as officials have to be hard liners with common sense. Showing your fairness and equality along with integrity in this situation will go along way, and make your assignor look like a genius for putting your crew on this game.


  6. William H. McKernan, International Association of Approved Basketball Officials, Central Connecticut Board #6 says:

    I disagree with the author. The point of interruption (official’s whistle, dead ball) was after the errant shot, thus, no team control. The only way to legally restart the game under this condition would be by using the alternating possession arrow. Absent a technical foul (I agree with the author on that point, unless one is a mind reader, no official could establish the true team loyalty of the fan), there is no other way, by rule, to restart the game. Time on the clock should be the time of the official’s whistle.

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