Tate: Coaches are running afoul

Meyers Leonard didn't foul in the last four seconds at Minnesota on Saturday night.

It wasn't even close. He stood in front of the bottom arc with arms raised and actually retreated as Austin Hollins drove in for the tying three-point play. Leonard initiated no contact whatsoever. The most prejudiced Gopher fan would agree on viewing the replay. The refs, too. It was a phantom call, pure and simple. It put Hollins on the free throw line, a violation of the officiating rule that you don't call what you don't see. Leonard couldn't have been seen making a foul because he didn't.

That's not the point. Repeat, this is not a complaint about a missed call. Refs blow them all the time. No human can officiate basketball. Most of these block-charge rulings are just glorified guesses.

Here's my point: A player, in this case Leonard, can't give the official that choice. For example, if you can't catch former Illini and current New York Giant Steve Weatherford's punt on the fly, you should flee the area. You don't stand around and let it carom off your knee and thereby lose an important playoff game. Similarly, if you see Hollins coming and a two-point basket doesn't matter, get completely out of the way.

Called out

Hollins would have preferred to launch a three-pointer, but couldn't. So he had only one intention when he invaded from the arc, and that was to draw contact. Any kind of contact. He sought it out. It's a desperate situation, so his only hope was to throw it back to the zebras.

Here's what we know. If you place a life-size statue of the Venus de Milo in the lane and you let dribblers attack from all angles, she'd soon foul out. There she is, without arms and unmoving, and she'd foul out. We should know that by now. That's the way the game is officiated, almost always siding with the offensive players. Drive on in, bump Venus and go to the line. Illini Brandon Paul takes advantage of that tactic, particularly in the late stages of close games.

There is an alternative. It is one that has been debated for 25 years. And that is to protect the three-point lead by fouling early, turning a one-possession game into a two-possession situation.

Illinois State assistant Rob Judson, in a recent conversation, said the foul should come inside of seven seconds. Lou Henson agrees. Back at New Mexico State, Henson's Aggies won a game after the opponent sank threes to tie at the end of regulation and the first overtime.

Henson became so frustrated that, carrying a two-point lead in the second overtime, he shocked his players in a timeout when he ordered the fouling of a 50-50 free throw shooter to avoid losing to a trey. The player missed the second free throw and the Aggies won by one.

On second thought

Since I'm so sensitive to this situation, and have been debating it for decades, I'm probably aware of 100 occasions in which games have been tied with a late three. In one case, Kansas won an NCAA championship after Mario Chalmers tied Memphis at :02 in regulation, even as John Calipari was calling for his team to foul. It happens all the time. Threes seem easier when it's a three-point game. And in all these years I've only heard about one game where the fouling strategy backfired in the closing seconds.

This said, I don't blame Illini coach Bruce Weber. He follows the same philosophy as nearly all major coaches. They don't believe in fouling with a three-point lead. These experts must see favoring odds for them not to. Or maybe they figure they'll get hammered if the strategy somehow backfired.

So I can only assume that there is something I don't understand, and I must accept their strategy because they're smarter, younger and more deeply engaged in basketball strategy than I am. They study the game. They're making anywhere from $750,000 (Chris Lowery at SIU) to 10 times that amount (Rick Pitino at Louisville), while I'm plugging along at a tiny fraction for writing these four columns per week.

Mine is a minority opinion. My thinking is viewed as way down on the totem pole. But I remain convinced. Look how many times it comes up. Practically every Illini basketball game, men and women, comes down to last-minute and last-second decisions.

Here's my promise. I'll never criticize the coach who directs players to foul the dribbler under :07. I'm convinced that is the odds-favoring move. If Paul had fouled Hollins on the drive Saturday — as a clock-situation policy ingrained from his freshman year — it wouldn't have guaranteed a win, but it's my thinking that the odds would have been overwhelmingly in the UI's favor. Or we can agree to disagree.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

JimOATSfan wrote on January 29, 2012 at 11:01 pm

OK agreeing on a best-odds strategy seems logical given the quality of the refereeing.

The core issue seems to be the refereeing, when it is terrible and no one changes the call, what can a fan conclude except that the calls are controlled.  That means games can be controlled.

Is it true? Let's see: the league refuses to comment on officiating, the pro's fine coaches and players 10's of thousands of dollars if they say anything about it. What would a college grad conclude???

Perhaps the Illini fans who whine at every post comment, can refocus on the blown officiating calls instead, using their video & audio recording skills to illustrate the game changers each season. Many remain local to CU and can access televised games.

These calls cost jobs. PSU would have been a win, and probably 2-3 more without the blown calls.  Does money control the calls for the major schools?  Michigan has the auto industry; OSU has the military; not sure what money source PSU has (old steel money?)

I'm sure there have been calls in at least 4-6 games each year costing Coach Webber and his bb teams too.

The sports nation needs a better strategy to address and improve this issue. Go Illini!


cardfanforlife wrote on January 30, 2012 at 12:01 am

Totally agree, that it seems the officials seem to be the main problem (for the longest time). 

My question is.. Why do the conferences have to retain officials that are  B1G, ACC, etc, etc.?

Why are all officials not registered as NCAA officials with no conference affiliations?.  Each conference seems to pick parts of the rule book to focus on.  One conference is rough and, the next is finess. 

I think if officials were doing a game like Minn vs Ill on Sunday, that crew should maybe then go to Drake vs Ill St.  Followed by UIC vs whoever.  I believe this would help with the rulebook being used more consistently and calls being made (or not made) because a coach is an ass (Bobby Knight). 
Seems like Hightower has got a thing against the Illini and he shows up for home games all the time. Is he requesting this game, sure seems so.  hahaha  And, wouldn't the Big Dance be a lot fairer when you have all officials on the same page and not a ACC crew with a Pac 10 vs MAC game?

One other thing, high paid executives that can afford time away from their real job doesn't always translate into a fair game.  I personnally would rather see a fair officiated game rather than a "homer job" and get the win.  In the case of Saturday, the players weren't allowed to decide the game. No matter how poorly they both played

bluehavana wrote on January 30, 2012 at 12:01 am

JimOATS & Illini fans,

Interestingly enough, I've been punching around IlliniHQ while glancing at a replay of Iowa/Indiana from this weekend.  Putting the "referee analyzer" eye on a more neutral, non Illinois game.  Probably equal hate for both these teams!

So far I've noticed a much different officiated game that several we've had for the Illini.  I won't claim the teams are playing real good defense, but this game is free flowing and pleasant to the eye.  Ed Hightowers crew is letting these guys play, what refreshing change.  

My disclaimer is Illinois doesn't put itself in a position to get referee calls.  When are they driving to the hoop or aggressive in the lane or post area?  With relative infrequency.  The Penn State call was really abysmal, but let's don't let it affect the outcome of that game.  It was in the first half.  Get mad, get together, and use it as a rallying point.  Minnesota?  It would be too easy to have Leonard get out of the way.  The referees made another questionable call because Illinois gave them that opportunity.





lansej wrote on January 30, 2012 at 7:01 am

The simple and best option would have been to simply get the heck "out of Dodge" and let Hollins score the two-pointer. Fouling creates a risk of a rebound on the second free-throw attempt which would have then tied the game. I do not understand why the coaches were simply standing there not yelling to the players to not foul. That is what I was doing to my TV as soon as Minnesota was headed down the court for that last fateful shot. Why risk any weird turnabout? Simply do the "matador defense" (we are often good at that anyway) and we win the game by one point. This game was the last straw as far as I am concerned. I have been following Illinois BB for over 60 years now (since 8 years old) and I have never seen such paralysis and ineptitude. Illinois used to be a feared and respected name in college basketball. No more, I am chagrined to say.

Dan Bloeme wrote on January 30, 2012 at 11:01 am
Profile Picture

People wouldn't be arguing about the officiating and saying refs stole the game if Bruce Weber's team could play decent offense all game long. This game should never have been as close as it was despite poor shooting by Illinois backcourt. Offense was stagnant again, turnover prone and taking poor shots. Bruce doesn't have any control over this team, hasn't taught them anything or they just ignore him.

read the DI wrote on January 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Sheesh, the answers are there, Lazy Loren. Trying reading Kevin Pelton or other stats-minded basketball writers. The empirical data are there and no doubt have been crunched. Instead of guessing, do your research!


raymo wrote on January 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm

You might be able to argue that the ref should not have blown his whistle but that is a foul. His arms are stretched forward and his feet are moving. 

RUSTYHAINDS wrote on January 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm

did they have the three point line when Henson coached at New Mexico State?? I dont remember that!

bluehavana wrote on January 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm


Lou went back to New Mexico State after he finished at Illinois.  I don't know the exact years, but from late 1990's to middle 2000's is close.

Moonpie wrote on January 30, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Another Moses Saint Tate gasbag column that could have been trimmed to one sentence: Myers Four Machine Leonard is dumb.

But, hey--he's also the next Bill Russell!

RUSTYHAINDS wrote on January 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Aaahh yes. i do recall that now. thank you blue.

CecilColeman wrote on January 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Perhaps if Meyers Leonard did not spend so much time smirking or groaning or questioning calls and non calls, he'd GET the call when a game is on the line.

Refs do have memories.

WyomingIllini wrote on January 31, 2012 at 10:01 am


I applaud Tate for bringing this issue to light. Today fans and the media rant and rave about players and coaches. Yet there is an unnatural silence about the quality of officiating and a way a game is called directly influences the outcome. Referees should after the game have to answer to the media just like the coaches have to address the media. This could also be educational to the fans and explain things that just don’t seem to be right. Instead the only accountability that the refs receive seems to happen behind close doors and usually never sees the light of day.


The Illinois Minnesota game had fifty-two fouls called and numerous traveling, holding and pushing calls that were never made. The inconsistence of the refs caused each team’s offense to sputter. The one that made me laugh the hardest is when two Minnesota players came down with a rebound and while both had the ball in their hands in unison they each took three steps.  No call.  The one that go me the maddest was when Sampson was behind Leonard with his left arm wrapped around Leonard, holding him and his right hand pushing Leonard in the back as the ball came into Leonard.  Because of Sampson holding him the ball bounced of Leonard and went out of bounds. No call, Minnesota ball. 


While it is not right, one can understand how on one day the game is called one way and the next day it is called completely different. Players and coaches need to adjust to how the game is being called. And you can understand how the occasional bad call or no call is made. Refs make mistakes just like the rest of us. But there is no excuse that during a game the calls the refs make become very inconsistent. They should make the same calls at the start of the game that they make in the middle of the game or the end of the game. It is impossible for players and coaches to adjust to the ref’s style when it is changing from minute to minute.


I have said this before NCAA basketball should go back to having two referees instead of three. Yes there would be some missed calls but this would also eliminate a third of the referees, which should result in higher quality officiating.  


As far as the Leonard end of regulation foul Austin Hollins summed it up best by saying the call was “Mediocre”. His statement gives us fans a glimpse off the lack of respect players have for many NCAA basketball referees. For those who think it is a foul on Leonard because his feet were moving.  You should note a defense player does not have to stand still to take a charge. Yes, the defensive player’s feet can be moving when an offensive player makes contact and it is not a foul on the defense. Look it up.

mlp94595 wrote on January 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I'm old enough to remember when Harv Schmidt said he voted to go from 3 officials back to 2 just to put a third of them out of a job.  And they did go back to 2 for a while.  So, this issue has been around a long time.

The sad truth is that bad calls are part of the game, but they can have a direct impact on the outcome.  At Penn State, there were at least three calls that went against the Illini that changed the game.  The last one was when the Illini were down 48-47 and Brandon Paul got a steal near midcourt but was called for a foul.  Even Dave O'Brien, the neutral broadcaster, thought it was clean looking at the replay.  With no foul call, the Illini would have been up by a point.  As it was, they never did catch up.  Steve Bardo probably got in trouble for saying that a visiting team has to be 10 points better than the home team to win in college basketball, but it's true most of the time.

The refs do have memories, and I think Leonard doesn't get calls because they think he whines too much. Same with Weber.  A lot of coaches complain to the refs, but some coaches are able to initimidate the refs, but others like Weber get no respect.  At the end of the Mich. State - Wisconsin game when they took the last second shot away, you could lip-read Bo Ryan calling the ref a m-f-er, but that doesn't seem to bother anyone.  The best thing the players and coaches can do is let it go.  The calls will even out over time.