Clock inventor points to possible human error in Rutgers-Tennessee game
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The inventor of the timing device used in No. 1 Tennessee's 59-58 win over Rutgers (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) suspects human error led to the disputed ending of Monday night's game.
The game clock appeared to pause for more than a second just before reaching zero, and Tennessee made a pair of foul shots with two-tenths of a second remaining.
"I can only conclude that we won the game in regulation and ask that the NCAA basketball committee take this into consideration when they seed the teams," Rutgers athletic director Robert Mulcahy said.
Precision Time Systems inventor and president Michael Costabile said there is plenty of room for human error in running the game clock. At issue is whether Rutgers' Kia Vaughn fouled Nicky Anosike before time expired.
"The system works really, really well," said Costabile, who watched the game on TV. "Have we had somebody hit the wrong button? Yes."
The Southeastern and Big East conferences said Tuesday that both leagues' coordinators of officials spoke with the game officials and clock operator.
"The officials discharged their duties properly and there is no indication that anything improperly was done by anyone involved," the SEC said in a statement. "There will be no further comment on this issue as the leagues, institutions, coaches and teams look to move forward."
Television replays showed the game clock seemed to pause at two-tenths of a second for more than about 1.3 seconds before running to zero as Anosike came down with an offensive rebound and was grabbed from behind by Vaughn.
Officials replayed the video and ruled the foul came just before the buzzer. Anosike stepped up and hit the two free throws to take the victory.
"The controversy at the end of the game last night at Tennessee was an unfortunate incident and Rutgers deserved to win," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said in a statement. " I am saddened because my team played a hard-fought game and to have it finish in such a manner overshadows the accomplishments of two exceptional teams."
The Precision Time device, which keeps time for all NBA games and many at the college level, uses small microphones attached to the referees' whistles that communicate wirelessly to devices worn on the referees' belts. The devices start and stop the game clock. When the device picks up sound from the whistle, the clock stops.
The official must hit a button on his belt pack to restart the clock.
At the same time, the official timekeeper manually controls the clock. Whichever signal is picked up first -- the sound of the referee's whistle, the click of the belt-pack button or the pressing of the timekeeper's button -- officially controls the clock.
Costabile said because the clock seemed to pause before reaching zero indicates to him that either an official or the timekeeper may have stopped the clock, anticipating Anosike would be fouled, and then restarted it when that wasn't immediately the case.
"That can take as much as 0.8 seconds to 1.5 seconds," he said. "That's telling me people froze up. It's only as good as someone pushing the button."
Barbara Jacobs, assistant commissioner in charge of Big East women's basketball officiating, said the officials were not aware that the clock had stopped.
"I believe that they thought they reviewed it and got it right," she said. "In other words, they were not aware that the clock had stopped."
The Southeastern Conference assigned Bob Trammell, Tina Napier and Bonita Spence as the game's officials because they work several conferences, including the SEC and Big East.
Mulcahy said his concerns were that the officiating crew neither asked the timekeeper to review the clock nor used a stopwatch while watching the replay monitor to check for inconsistencies.
"It's one thing for human error to occur. That happens, we accept that," he said. "It's entirely another thing when the appropriate steps aren't taken to correct it."
Tim Reese, the manager of Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena, said new batteries are put in the Precision Time devices before every game, and the unit was tested before and after the game to ensure it was working properly.
"How long does it take the signal to get to the base unit?" he asked rhetorically after the game.
Replays of the final seconds of the game, which aired nationally on ESPN2, show Trammell at the baseline near Anosike raising his arms to signal the foul as the clock strikes zero. Neither Napier nor Spence are in view, and either one may have signaled a foul before Trammell did.
Costabile said his company, based in Bolivia, N.C., offers a system that can track whose whistle or button is responsible for clock stoppage, but Tennessee doesn't use that system.
"There is a way to track every play. If somebody does something, we know what happens," Costabile said. "They don't have it set up there, but I'm certainly going to recommend it to them."
According to Mulcahy, Rutgers has the newer Precision Time system.
Tennessee spokeswoman Debby Jennings said decisions involving that type of equipment usually are made at the conference level. She said, "Tennessee turned the matter over to the league offices to review," and did not plan further comment.
Sherri Coale, president of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and coach of Oklahoma, said she didn't believe the WBCA had any control over a review of the game, and she didn't know if there was anything the association could do. She said she had been "insulated" Tuesday while preparing for the 10th-ranked Sooners' game against No. 20 Texas A&M and hadn't been able to keep up with developments.
"I have not talked to anybody formally, but I believe that clock management is a correctable error and they could have gone to the monitor," Coale said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press