Officials withdraw from Big East tourney

Updated: March 11, 2011, 12:58 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The three officials whose errors marred the end of the St. John's-Rutgers Big East tournament game have voluntarily withdrawn from the rest of the tournament, the conference said.

The three officials -- Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton -- came under heavy criticism for failing to officiate until the final buzzer of the second-round game at Madison Square Garden.

St. John's beat Rutgers 65-63 on Wednesday. But Rutgers should have had another possession when the Red Storm's Justin Brownlee, after stealing a pass from Rutgers' Gilvydas Biruta, traveled while celebrating and stepped out of bounds with 1.7 seconds remaining, according to the ESPN broadcast.

Brownlee then hurled the ball into the stands as his coach, Steve Lavin, was walking down the sideline to shake the hand of Rutgers coach Mike Rice. By that time, the officials had left the court.

Of the game-ending sequence, John Adams, the NCAA's national coordinator of men's basketball officiating, told ESPN.com's Andy Katz: "Not officiating to the end of a game is unacceptable."

Higgins made the initial gesture toward the crew's removal from the tournament, a source with knowledge of the situation told Katz. Higgins approached Big East officials on Thursday morning and said he wished to step aside to avoid becoming the story and detracting attention from the games.

Conference officials agreed it was a good move. In a meeting, officials told Burr and Walton what Higgins had said and suggested that they, too, should step aside. The source said the decision was "amicable" and the two refs were fine with it. Later in the day Thursday, Burr and Walton were seen sitting watching the games in the Big East box at Madison Square Garden.

In a statement, Big East conference commissioner John Marinatto said the officials withdrew "in the best interests of everyone involved -- including coaches, student-athletes, game officials and Big East member institutions."

"With three days of competition remaining, it is our hope that everyone will now focus on our outstanding teams and the exciting games ahead," he said.

Rice, in a phone interview Thursday on ESPN's "First Take," said the three officials demonstrated accountability by withdrawing from the tournament. He praised the quality of referees in the Big East in general and the three referees in particular, but declined to say whether he would have liked to see them continue to work through the tournament.

"There's accountability there. They didn't have to do this," Rice said of their withdrawal. "I'm sure besides my 13 players and my staff they probably feel just as bad about what happened."

"They wanted to hold themselves accountable and they did what they did," he added.

Marinatto acknowledged the errors in a statement released after Wednesday's game.

"Both missed violations should have caused the game clock to stop and a change of possession to occur prior to the end of the game," Marinatto said. "Neither error is reviewable or correctable under NCAA playing rules."

Adams, who is in charge of selecting and managing the 98 officials for the NCAA tournament, said he hadn't seen the video of the final seconds of the game but would discuss it with Big East coordinator of officials Art Hyland.

"And then we'll notify the guys sometime Sunday if they're working or not," Adams said.

Adams said that officials are selected, much like teams for the NCAA tournament, on the basis of their body of work from the season, not just one call or one game.

"One bad call doesn't knock a guy out of the NCAA tournament," Adams said.

Marinatto called the league's officials a "very dedicated and loyal group of professionals." Last year, Burr worked the Big East semifinals and Higgins the championship game.

Burr has worked 16 Final Fours, the first in 1985, the last in 2006, and has done seven national championship games. Higgins has worked 10 Final Fours, the first in 1988, the last in 2004, and has done four national championship games.

Walton has never worked a Final Four.

Andy Katz is an ESPN.com senior writer. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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