Wisch: Did Mike Tisdale’s Foul Need To Be Called Intentional?

By Dave Wischnowsky–

Merry Christmas, Illini Nation.

Bah, humbug.

For Illinois basketball fans, there are few – if any – things worse than losing to Missouri in the annual Braggin’ Rights battle. And for fans of basketball, there are few – if any – things worse than seeing a thrilling game ultimately decided by the officials, and not the players.

I don’t care who you root for.

On Wednesday night in a compelling, nip-and-tuck contest before 21,634 throaty fans at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, however, that’s just what happened between the Illini and Tigers.

With just 45 seconds left, Illinois’ D.J. Richardson drained a three-pointer that cut Missouri’s lead to 62-61. On the ensuing inbounds play, Missouri was down the court before you – or the Illini – could blink as forward Laurence Bowers raced in for a lay-up. Illinois center Mike Tisdale chased him from behind and placed two hands on Bowers’ back.

It wasn’t a shove. It was more of a tag. But official John Higgins still felt compelled to whistle an intentional foul.

Not only did Bowers make the layup, he also made the two free throws. And then Missouri scored a layup on the inbounds play. In just 1.2 seconds, the score went from 62-61 to 68-61.

Game, set, match, Tigers.

After Missouri strutted off the court with a 75-64 victory that looked, on paper, like a near-rout (but wasn’t at all), fan message boards, Facebook and Twitter went berserk with debate over the intentional foul call.

No one disagreed that it was a dumb foul by Tisdale, but many disagreed on whether it needed to be called an intentional one in that situation. Couldn’t Higgins have just called a regular personal foul, and let the teams decide the game on the court?

I felt like he could have. Bruce Weber did, too.

“I don’t like the intentional foul call,” Illinois’ exasperated head coach said on the Illini Sports Network postgame interview. “You can’t have that play be the (difference in the game). In essence, he probably made the right call. But there’s 1,000 of them in the game and they don’t call it.”

So, should Higgins have called that one?

This morning, in an attempt to answer that, I cracked open (OK, downloaded) the NCAA’s 2010-11 Basketball Rulebook and, in Section 4, on page 147, found the official rule for “Intentional Personal Fouling.” Here it is, in its entirety:

Section 4. Intentional Personal Fouling
Guidelines for calling the intentional personal foul are:

a. Any personal foul that is not a legitimate attempt to directly play the ball or a player is an intentional personal foul.

b. Running into the back of a player who has the ball, wrapping the arm(s) around a player and grabbing a player around the torso or legs are intentional personal fouls.

c. Grabbing a player’s arm or body while initially attempting to gain control by playing the ball directly is an intentional personal foul.

d. Grabbing, holding or pushing a player away from the ball is an intentional personal foul.

e. Undue roughness used to stop the game clock is an intentional personal foul and, if severe, should be called a flagrant personal foul.

f. It is an intentional personal foul when, while playing the ball, a player causes excessive contact with an opponent.

Reading the NCAA’s rule – in particular, Guideline A: “Any personal foul that is not a legitimate attempt to directly play the ball or a player is an intentional personal foul” – it looks as if Higgins did make the correct call. Tisdale did not attempt to directly play the ball. There’s no debating that.

However, the NCAA also has an addendum at the end of the rule that reads, “The intentional personal foul must be called within the spirit and intent of the intentional-foul rule.”

Interpret that as you wish, but I don’t think the “spirit and intent” of the intentional foul rule is to take a gripping basketball game between two fierce rivals and absolutely tear the heart out of it. Higgins’ call effectively declared the game over simply because one player touched another guy in the back.

There’s just something not right about that.

Clearly, by the letter of the law, Tisdale’s foul could be called intentional. But I don’t think it needed to be. Higgins could have used his discretion, let Missouri’s Bowers shoot one free throw after his basket and then allow the game, the players and the fans to enjoy a clean finish.

Rules might be rules, but they’re also intended to make games better.

Not ruin them.

But, unfortunately, that’s just what happened last night.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: Did Mike Tisdales Foul Need To Be Called Intentional?

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Excellent re-cap of a furious 45-seconds, Dave.

    I just don’t like it when Refs have more to do with the outcome than the players.

    And I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Thanks and Merry Christmas to you, too. It certainly was a furious 45 seconds — and then a lot longer furious period of time aftewards for Illini fans.

      It’s just a shame that we didn’t get to see how the game would have turned out without that call. Illinois very well might have still lost, but such a competitive game deserved a better ending. I just think the intentional call was overkill in that situation. A regular foul would have sufficed.

  • Mark, Sterling

    Perhaps not the foul, but his lazy, soft, lack of effort seems to be intentional!

  • Jeff Sieger

    The only reason I agree with the call is because pushing the back of a player who is in the air going for a lay-up or dunk is such a dangerous play, just ask Andrew Bogut about that. Even a light shove can lead to a player landing sideways or, even worse, upside-down and can lead to serious injuries. Was it a hard foul? No. Was it a stupid and dangerous play worthy of being called an intentional foul? Yes.

  • Bourbonrich

    Amazes me that refs can be liiteral on this but not on carrying the ball or off the ball contact. Two games in a row with interesting officiating.

  • Buffalo Bob

    Big Ten officials adenoids again the worst in college. No reason to call this intentional, and definitely is not in the spirit of the rule.

    However, you could intentionally foul me anyday Big Boy!

  • Big Al

    As a Missouri fan, I still didn’t like the call at the time. When they slowed it down in the replay you could clearly see he pushed him in the back and while it was not hard, it still could of caused serious injury. It should have been ruled the way it was or no call at all. You cant call that a foul, because it was an intentional push from behind with no attempt to play the ball. I thought they could look at replay. If so, then that is what should have happened and then probably have no foul at all. However, all that being said, the Illinois coach should be mad at the player. He needs to understand the importance of that play and how even a foul could make it a 4 point lead vs. 3. With so little time left in the game the difference between a 3 and a 4 point game is huge.

  • ob

    You can’t look at a replay to determine if a foul occured or not — only if a flagrant foul occurred. Once the official blew the whistle to call a foul it was a foul. The only question then becomes if it was intentional. Clearly this one was — there was no attempt to play the ball, so by rule, it is intentional. And contact above the waiste in these situations is a point of emphasis by the NCAA this year, so you know the officials are going to call it. Bottom line — it was a dumb play Tisdale should not have made.

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