Why the NCAA Should Let Duke's Loss to Miami Remain a Loss

1) Officiating errors are part of the game. So long as both opponents are equally vulnerable to bad calls, the game is fair, and a win by either side is acceptable. Even when the game comes down to a ridiculous set of laterals on a kickoff which is returned for a touchdown with no time left on the clock.

2) Reversing the result of a game is a dangerous precedent. So far as I know, neither the NCAA nor any American professional league has ever declared a losing team to be the winner following a review of officiating--with good reason. If it is done even once, then every result of every sporting event ever in the history of ever and ever becomes subject to reversal. This is a can of such prodigious worms that I can't believe anyone would seriously consider opening it. Think of all the officiating errors that have hurt the teams you root for; now realize that every opponent can point to officiating errors that hurt THEM. If we consider every single error, not only will we never finish, but every reversal could later be un-reversed if a different administrator, arbitrator, panel, or high-priced lawyer feels some error was not properly addressed by a previous administrator, arbitrator, panel, or high-priced lawyer. No victory will ever be safe.

3) The last play of a game is not the only play. The final play depends on everything that took place in the earlier part of the game; the last-second go-ahead score wouldn't be necessary if the other team hadn't made its own go-ahead score earlier. In that light, it makes no sense to protest the officials' judgment on the final play alone; if their decisions are subject to reversal, ALL their decisions must be examined. The team that got the short end of the final play may or may not be happy to have earlier decisions suddenly reversed. In Duke's case, there was controversy about whether they got the ball across the goal line on their last TD; if review determines that they did not, they would lose even if Miami's final score were negated. If several pass interference calls against Miami were reviewed and invalidated, Duke's final drive might have stalled even before they got near the end zone. Why should these potentially game-changing decisions by the officials be considered correct if their decisions on the last play are subject to reversal? For that matter, if only the last six seconds of a game matter, why bother having players take the field for the first 59:54? They're risking injury for nothing.

4) Wins may be vacated, but they are not granted to losers. There have been numerous occasions where a team later found to be cheating--using ineligible players, say--has been forced to give up a victory or even a championship. Even in these extreme cases, where one side was deliberately violating the rules, I have never heard of a case where the losing team was allowed to trade in its L and receive the W. (Indeed, a team that is found in violation of the rules can even be forced to vacate a loss.) And I have never yet heard of a case where a team that was NOT cheating was forcibly stripped of a victory, let alone stripped so that victory could then be granted to its opponent. Georgia Tech's 2009 win in the ACC football championship was vacated two years later, after the NCAA ruled that the Yellow Jackets used an ineligible player, but Clemson was not named 2009 champion in their place; there IS no champion for the 2009 season, according to ACC Commissioner John Swofford.

5) Incompetence is not the same as bias. If evidence emerged that the officials made their decisions because a Miami booster was paying them, or because the officials themselves were betting on the outcome, then we might have reason to declare the contest invalid; it is not a fair contest if the officials are biased against one side. That said, partisans often perceive even a perfectly neutral decision as though it were biased, purely because the result places their side at a disadvantage. This perception is even more likely when the officials are not good at their jobs. A decision's unpopularity, however, is not in itself evidence of bias, particularly if both sides have complaints about the officiating. Did both sides have complaints in this game? Well, Miami had an ACC record 23 penalties called against it--the second-most in major college history--while Duke was flagged for a total of five. This may suggest incompetence on the refs' part, but if there was bias, these numbers suggest that it did not favor the Hurricanes.

6) There is an ACC rule stating that the result of a game cannot be overturned. Duke wants us to ignore that rule. Why? Because rules are too important to ignore!

7) Las Vegas will riot. Think about it. Reversing a victory means everybody who bet money on Miami will have to return it. Bookies the world over would tear their hair out over the complications THAT would produce. And again, it means no victory is ever safe, and the pressure by losing gamblers to reconsider losses will become enormous. Given the historical ties between gambling and organized crime, I do not foresee a peaceful resolution to this situation.

8) It's Duke. Even if I were not a UNC alum, with all the distaste for royal blue that accompanies such a pedigree, I could point to numerous occasions when Duke has cheerfully accepted an official's error when it benefited the Blue Devils, particularly on the basketball court. Consider the fact that the referees did not eject Christian Laettner when he stomped on the chest of a fallen Kentucky player in the 1992 NCAA tournament; Laettner remained in the game, scored the winning basket, and led the team to a championship. Will Duke relinquish that victory or that title? Or think about the timekeeper's failure to start the clock in the last seconds against Clemson in 2007, an error that left an extra second on the clock, which Duke used to tie the game and win in overtime. Will the Tigers be receiving that W? Or consider Duke's most recent NCAA title, which the NCAA admits was marred by a critical and incorrect out-of-bounds call. Will Coach K be shipping the trophy to Wisconsin? To ask such questions is to point out their absurdity. Krzyzewski would never consider giving up those victories, even if he could be persuaded that they were obtained unfairly. Duke has benefited from officials' decisions for decades--no, really, ask the Los Angeles Times in 2001--so it's rather exasperating, albeit also amusing, to hear Duke's football coach asking for the results of the Duke-Miami game to be reversed because he didn't like the officials' decisions. I mean, jeez, man bites dog.

In short, I do not believe Duke will be granted the win, and I do not believe Duke should be granted the win, and I would be very concerned if Duke ever were granted the win. There comes a time when you just have to ignore the guys in the striped shirts and take care of business on the field. I guess we'll see Saturday whether the Blue Devils are ready to do that or not.

ETA: Looks like they weren't ready. UNC 66, Duke 31

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on November 6, 2015 10:02 PM.

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