Video, Rice Firing Could Swing Pendulum

Two years ago Rutgers coach Mike Rice was universally viewed as a victim of one of the worst officiating blunders ever. He may now become the poster child for those who challenge coaches who push youth to get more out of themselves by striving to win and excel. While not condoning the hurling of basketballs at players and other activities for which Rice was sent to counseling and then fired, there is danger of the pendulum swinging the other way.

Monday Breitbart Sports reported on a school board's banning of dodge ball as the latest move toward politically correct sports. A school board member went so far as to cite the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook as a reason kids should not be allowed to throw dodge balls at each other.

While basketballs are not designed for the purpose of being hurled at unsuspecting players, dodge balls are. What's next, having life guards monitor college kids on spring break to make sure beach balls are not being thrown at each other to make certain students feel weaker?

Just as good teachers convince youth to expand their minds by trying to solve math problems they at first believe are impossible, coaches need to convince youth they can improve their bodies if they push to run a little faster and jump a little higher.

We give students 3.5 GPAs to measure progress, and sometimes having a coach get on a player will help him or her access and develop better health habits and work ethics.

As for Rice himself, his firing comes two years after he was receiving sympathy. In 2010 he took Villanova to overtime with unknown NEC champ Robert Morris, and in 2011 he was victimized by one of the worst officiating blunders ever in the Big East tournament to end his season--but handled it with class. Oh how times have changed.

The fiery Rice seemed to be just what Rutgers needed to return to glory. He coached only two years at Robert Morris, winning the NEC both times. His masterful coaching of the 15-seed Robert Morris then took 2-seed Villanova into overtime before finally falling 73-70, convincing Rutgers he was ready to coach at the Big East level.

He never had a winning record in his three-year career with the Scarlet Knights, but his defining moment in the public eye until this week was a moment in which he was the victim of terrible officiating.

Anyone who has refereed basketball, even at the intramural level, is very hesitant to criticize referees. The game appears to move so much faster on the court than with the distance of the TV, and the nuances of calling a charge if the player has position (not both feet flat on the ground like decades ago) and the offensive player lowers the shoulder, allowing body contact after a blocked shot, and even catching deflections.

This was one of the few times I was shocked at refereeing. Experienced referees such as Tim Higgins, Jim Burr and Earl Walton literally walked off the court and missed the end of the game.

Rice had coached Rutgers to an upset overtime win against Seton Hall in the opening round, and then took heavily favored St. John's to the brink to keep hopes of an automatic NCAA bid alive for another day.

As shown here, St. John's led 65-63 and got the ball, and then Rutgers got a huge break. St. John's forward Justin Browlee got away from Rutgers defenders to dribble out the last seconds, but with 1.7 seconds left he started to run with the ball to throw it into the stands (an obvious travel to give the ball back to Rutgers for a final game-winning inbound play) AND in the process stepped out of bounds to ensure Rutgers would get an out-of-bounds play even if the travel was missed. (see Daily News coverage)

There was one problem: all three referees had started to walk off the court. Tim Huggins actually looked back over his shoulder as he walked toward the locker room and seemed to see the travel, but had no idea there was time on the clock and never made the call.

Despite the Big East apologizing and all three referees withdrawing from the rest of the tournament, Rice emerged as an apparent class act.

He portrayed intense hurt for his players, but somehow avoided lambasting the referees who were obviously in the wrong.



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