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"But I Had -9"

By Michael Horvath:

It was a normal Wednesday night in beautiful Radnor, Pennsylvania on February the 6th. I was finishing up my constitutional law reading at home just in time to go see the Villanova basketball game that night at the Finneran Pavilion. I had been to a couple Villanova games before as a 1L, but this was the first time I ever got to be inside the newly renovated Pavilion. I was excited. The Cats were playing Creighton and, honestly, they gave us a better game than expected. Tied at 49, and much to the dismay of the home crowd, the game went into overtime where the Wildcats began to blow it open. With 3.7 seconds left in the game, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree went to the free throw line and put the Cats up by nine. On the inbound, Kaleb Joseph of Creighton grabbed the ball, ran down the floor, and threw up a shot about half-a-second after the buzzer. The basket was counted by referee Roger Ayers. Final score was Villanova 66, Creighton 59.


No big deal, right? Who cares? Apparently, a lot of people do.


In the electric world of sports gambling the point spread in that game was Villanova -9. Villanova was up exactly nine points, and were in a position to ‘push’ the spread, typically negating the bet, no harm, no foul, until Joseph’s shot. When watching the video, it is clear to the eye that Joseph threw up the shot after the buzzer. So why was it still counted?! Everybody who took Villanova -9 just lost their money. To make matters worse this was the SECOND time that week, that a situation like this had happened. In the Iowa State-Oklahoma game on Monday the 4th, the point spread was ruined when an Oklahoma player hit a shot after the buzzer. Again, it still counted. Oh wait, but did I mention that the same referee was officiating both games?


Yes, that’s right. Roger Ayers was an official in two games within three days where a late shot ruined a point spread and no review was administered. The coincidence here was too much

for the gambling community and they, led by the very popular Barstool Sports, took action on social media and against the NCAA. The first thing the gamblers questioned was an applicable NCAA regulation governing instant replay, which reads:

Section 3. Instant Replay-Mandatory Use, Article 1: Officials shall use such available equipment in the following situations: a) When there is a reading of zeros (or should have been zeroes on the clock) on the game clock at the end of any period, after making a call on the playing court, and when necessary to determine the outcome of the game in the following situations: 1) Determine whether a try for field goal entering the basket was released before the reading of zeroes on the game clock. . . . [1]


Unfortunately for the gamblers, this section would not apply to the situation that occurred in the Villanova game. Reading the section from a textualist and reasonable approach, it only applies to determine wins, losses or, ties (outcomes) at the end of games. However, the NCAA began to receive so much backlash that they were quick to issue a statement.

“An NCAA membership ad hoc committee examining sports wagering will work with appropriate standing membership committees, specifically playing rules, to direct review of all NCAA policies that might be impacted by the new gambling environment in regular season and postseason play, including reviews of last-second shots. This action is in keeping with our commitment to maintaining the integrity of the games.” [2]


Here, the NCAA is promising that they are going to review and hopefully change their current regulation on last-second shots that do not affect the “outcomes” of games. That’s more like it right? The tricky thing here is that the NCAA is not responsible for changing scores and reviewing shots that are not included in their direct by-laws during the regular season. Instead, that job is left to the individual conferences who determine how to take action on these matters.

[3] However, that notion changes when it comes to the March Madness Tournament, and the NCAA was quick to bring that up:

“During the NCAA Tournament, we will review all shots made at the buzzer, as necessary, in the interest of accuracy of score and team and player statistics and even if the outcome of the game isn’t riding on the officials’ call.” [4]


In the interest of accuracy? Is that what they are going for here? I get that it is important to be accurate in the NCAA tournament, but why would you not just amend your current by-laws to reflect that accuracy be concise in all games, including the regular season? I believe they should consider it before someone with too much “gambling money” starts a lawsuit. Whether America likes it or not, since states were given their rights to regulate sports gambling last year in the Murphy v. NCAA ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the gambling environment has changed.


The NCAA and other sports organizations are beginning to recognize that sports gambling is growing. In light of this, I do believe that the NCAA and its conferences will keep a close watch on these issues in the March Madness tournament. Afterwards, it would not surprise me at all to see them amend their rules to correct the issues that took place in the Villanova game and the Iowa State game. For now, it’ll be interesting to see if there are any additional situations like this and how the gamblers, conferences, and the NCAA handle them.


References:

[1]: Rowland, Brad, and Brad Rowland. “NCAA Is Changing Buzzer-Beater Review Due To New Gambling Environment.” UPROXX, UPROXX, 8 Feb. 2019, uproxx.com/dimemag/ncaa-tournament-college-basketball-gambling-buzzer-beater-review/.

[2]: Id.

[3]: Id.

[4]: Rodenberg, Ryan. “NCAA Tournament Referees to Review Buzzer Shots.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 8 Feb. 2019, www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/25948083/ncaa-tournament-referees-review-buzzer-shots.


*Michael Horvath is a first year student at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law and a staff writer for the Sports Law Society Blog.

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