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January 4, 2013, 11:59 AM ET
Unattainable

by John Gasaway

By rule Colorado should have won their game against Arizona in Tucson last night, but I don’t understand the people who say Sabatino Chen clearly released his shot in time. There may be a paradox in that sentence, but there’s no contradiction.

Chen’s shot constitutes one of the rarest of basketball artifacts, a play where seeing it on replay doesn’t definitively solve the riddle. This comes up more often in football (with receptions made close to the ground, for example, or quarterback sneaks at the goal line), but we’re not used to this kind of thing in hoops.

It comes down to this (courtesy of Twitter user K. Chris Cornell):

Read those pixels however you choose.

Fortunately the NCAA has made procedural provision for what we should do when we don’t know with certainty what happened. Rob Dauster already touched all the correct bases last night. The key wording is on page 91 of the rulebook: “When definitive information is unattainable with the use of the monitor, the original call stands.”

The original call on the floor was a made three, and with good reason. In real time it seemed apparent that Chen released his shot before the horn. The pixels above are anything but “definitive,” therefore the original call should have been left alone. Game over, Colorado wins.

Instead, the refs waved off the shot. The game went to overtime, and Arizona won. I understand why CU head coach Tad Boyle is livid and why he would say something petulant and aggrieved like “Get rid of instant replay,” but the truth is the Internet’s real-time outrage, confusion, errors, corrections, and eventual consensus made the case for replay convincingly, albeit unwittingly.

Deadspin had a post up instantly last night with video and a claim that the clip “clearly” showed that Chen’s shot had been released in time. But with two additional hours to scrutinize screen caps (and contemplate one-point safeties — it was a wild night), the site came back with an “update” citing Dauster and making the exact opposite (and correct) point. Since it was not clear whether the shot was really released before the clock hit zero, it should have counted because that was the initial ruling on the floor. With additional time, Deadspin got it right.

We are all Deadspin, refs included. Replay’s essential not only because it furnishes additional information but also because it comprises a ritual that confers additional time. In any event like this there’s a direct correlation between time elapsed and the quality of its analysis, whether that analysis comes in the form of a ref’s call or a spectator’s tweet. (Any weathered Twitter user knows in his or her weary bones that the quickest tweets are usually the dumbest.)

Instead of killing replay we should be telling refs: Take all the time you need, and if a pdf of the rulebook on an iPad would help, that’s fine too.

Before you sign Boyle’s Death to Replay petition, please revisit the conclusion of the 2011 Big East tournament game between Rutgers and St. John’s. Those refs threw away any possibiity of additional time for review with both hands, and the result was a true travesty. Conversely, last night’s travesty was at least arrived at in the prescribed deliberate manner. When the outcome of a game is in the balance, time is everything simply because perfect knowledge, like perfect justice, is unattainable.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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