There's a popular philosophy when it comes to officials that basically asks them to call a game consistently. If something is a foul in the first twenty minutes, then a similar action later in the game should too be called a foul. It's a theory that I certainly subscribe to, although I have a tiny variation: Don't call a foul unless it's clearly a foul.
Remember the earlier days of the Big East? The conference was known for being brutal, what with big boys like Alonzo Mourning and Derrick Coleman. It was such a tough league that it granted players six personal fouls for a season, just to accommodate for the physicality. Fouls were earned.
Now? Well, not to go all "uphill in the snow, both ways, to school" on you, but fouls are a dime a dozen. Bill Raftery "nickle and dimers" in fact. Officials have changed the game. Ted Valentine and Jim Burr and John Cahill are now household names to hoops fans. Karl Hess inspired Grantland to monitor Twitter, just to see the hatred spewed about him. Not that refs weren't an issue, oh, fifteen or twenty years ago, but it's become an epidemic of "Look at me! I'm making a call!"
So the concepts of "be consistent" or "let them play" have, needless to say, fallen apart. And nothing better sums up the problem in college basketball than the block/charge call. Seriously, go ahead and Google just to see how many articles and notes you can find on people fed up with officials getting the block/charge wrong.
A charge used to be called when a defender had established himself on the court and then was hit by an offensive player. If the defenders feet were moving when the collision occurred, a blocking foul was called. Now, surely it's more complicated than that, players being as big as they are quick, calls are bang-bang. A nano second to get it right. Plus, there are intricacies involved, too.
But what call isn't expected to be made quick? What call isn't made on the spot with thousands, maybe even millions of people, watching? There is some leeway, but not much. Anyway, it's become obvious, officials in the college game don't understand, or simply can't tell when a player is guilty of charging or when a defender has committed a blocking foul.
Which of course leads us to Brandon Triche and the Michigan Wolverines. Check out this GIF courtesy of the Big Lead. I'm not saying this as an easy call. The fact of the matter is, Triche really had no business driving to the basket in that moment. The game was on the line and Triche was playing with four fouls. Truthfully a senior, one that's played in and won more games than any other Syracuse player in the program's history, should just know better (By the way, anyone else remember this play from just last year?). But the bottom line is, Triche was trying to make a play and, regardless of how close of a call it is, the wrong call was made.
Did it cost Syracuse the game? Yes and no. Yes because it sent Triche to the pine and and completely changed the momentum during the final seconds of the game. No because I'll never blame one call, no matter how wrong, on the outcome of a game. The Orange allowed Michigan, namely Mitch McGary, to do work against its zone in the first half and Syracuse struggled to score all game long. The Wolverines were the better team for the full forty minutes. That's not to say SU couldn't have won, it's just Michigan did win, and it's not one bad call that was the reason.
Still, it's hard to look at that GIF or the picture above and not think what could have been. Triche going to the line with 20 ticks to play, down two, all signs pointing to an unbelievable comeback for Syracuse. I mean, from the under four TV timeout on, Michigan was choking away a Final Four win. Syracuse's press made Trey Burke and company uncomfortable, and it seemed like once they cleared half court, no one Wolverine wanted to actually touch the ball. When Southerland hit the three to cut Michigan's lead to one, I yelled, to no one in particular, "Syracuse is going to win!"
Obviously I was wrong. And a big reason why, not the main reason, but a factor nonetheless, was the call on Triche. I think I'm most upset about it not so much because of just Saturday, but because of the whole season. Officials have been making the wrong call since November (and really, for a few years now). That's what's so frustrating. It's like watching a bad movie you've already seen a couple of times. You sit through it, knowing you don't like it, knowing what's going to happen, and you still get worked up over it all.
This is the state of college basketball. It's become a B rated TBS Saturday afternoon movie, think RV with Robin Williams. Sure, the one-and-done rule has taken a greater toll on the game. And the money has changed things for the worse, probably. But officials, the people expected to make sure what we're watching on that 94 foot long, 50 feet wide, court is in fact basketball, is the group failing the sport the most.