The Georgia High School Association called for the final second of a basketball game to be replayed this week in Gwinnett County because of what the association believes was the misapplication of a rule by a game official Saturday.
This rare do-over came weeks after Peach County High failed to get a replay of the final minutes of its Class AAA championship football game. In that Dec. 8 contest, won by Calhoun 10-6, an official ruled a Peach County pass incomplete that was caught and could have resulted in the go-ahead touchdown with about 3:30 left.
The basketball game swung on a rule application while the football controversy involved on a judgment call.
Upon hearing news of the basketball game, Peach County superintendent Dr. Daryl Fineran fired off a letter on Monday to express his displeasure to GHSA executive director Dr. Robin Hines.
‘’They’re going to replay that, a regular-season game?’’ Fineran said Tuesday. “They’re going to have something decided between Saturday (when the game was played) and Monday morning, and you have a state-championship game seen by thousands, and we can’t even get a call back? I told them that’s ridiculous.’’
The GHSA gave Peach County a hearing with its board of trustees nine days after the football game and denied the school’s request for a replay of the final minutes or a declaration that Peach County and Calhoun are co-champions.
The relatively slow turnaround with the Peach County matter irritated Fineran, who accused the GHSA of favoritism. “This is a Gwinnett County school, and Gwinnett County wags the tail,’’ Fineran said. “It’s the money, the socioeconomics. It’s like a school principal deciding punishment based on who the kids’ parents are. You can't do that.’’
The GHSA’s ruling on the basketball game highlights the difference between rules applications (which can be protested) and judgment calls (which cannot be protested).
In the basketball game, originally played Saturday between Collins Hill and Discovery, a Discovery player was charged with a technical foul when he punched the basketball away as it was being passed to him with one second left and his team leading by one point. A referee called a technical foul on Discovery and awarded Collins Hill two free throws, which were made, giving Collins Hill a 46-45 victory.
Discovery protested, and the GHSA ruled that the official’s call should have been a change of possession, not a technical foul and free throws.
‘’That was clearly a misapplication of the rule,’’ Hines said. ‘’Free throws should not have been awarded. And it happened with one second left, which clearly had an impact on the outcome of the game. We had the opportunity to make that right and correct that misapplication of the rules. That’s well within the NFHS (national federation) rules.’’
So Collins Hill and Discovery replayed the final second on Tuesday after a regularly schedule game between the two, which Collins Hill won 61-49. The replay followed. Discovery intercepted an inbound pass, and it was over. Discovery won 45-44.
In the football game, the mistake was a judgment call, not the misapplication of a rule. Judgment calls are essentially opinions made live – Did he catch the ball, or did he not? The official ruled that he did not.
‘’That’s clearly a judgment call, and under our bylaws, a judgment by contest officials is not reviewable or reversible,’’ Hines said. “It’s my job as the executive director of the GHSA to interpret and enforce our bylaws. For me to do anything else would be negligent.’’
Finernan sees no difference between the basketball and the football scenarios. Football coach Chad Campbell has stated that he asked to speak to the head official immediately after the pass play but was denied the opportunity. That, Peach County claims, was a misapplication of a rule.
The GHSA disagrees.
Fineran also views the basketball play as a judgment call, not a rule interpretation. ‘’The official can call whatever he wants; it’s their feeling at the time,’’ Fineran said. “If a kid boots the ball up into the stands, they’re going to call a technical. It’s how he wants to interpret it.’’
The GHSA again disagrees. Knocking the ball away to prevent an opponent from getting it once was a technical, but the rule was amended to make it a change of possession more than 10 years ago.
The GHSA’s decision to replay a portion of any contest is rare, but not unprecedented.
In 2003, also in Gwinnett County, Dacula protested a 17-14 football loss to Duluth, claiming that an official misapplied a rule and incorrectly awarded Duluth a first down on a scoring drive. The GHSA agreed, and the teams restarted the game two days later, on a Monday, and replayed the final 11:51. Duluth won again, although by a different score, 17-10.
Critical to that case, according to the GHSA at the time, was that Dacula protested at the time the mistake was made and that the incorrect call was significant to the outcome. It’s unlikely that a blowout game would’ve received the same treatment. Hines stated that the circumstances of the mistake in the Collins Hill-Discovery basketball game also were pertinent to the GHSA’s decision.
There have been other cases of winning protests like that.
In 1979, the last four seconds of a state-playoff boys basketball game between Dublin and Upson were replayed because of a rule misapplication. The teams finished the game five days later, and Upson won again, only this time in overtime.
In 1975, the GHSA reversed the outcome of a semifinal football game originally won by Lakeside-DeKalb over Douglass on a final-play field goal. The GHSA ruled that an official incorrectly stopped the game clock, not letting the final seconds tick off and allowing Lakeside time to attempt a game-winning field goal. The points were erased on appeal, and Douglass advanced.
Mistakes over rules have been fixed in less-profile sports, as well. In 2012, Gordon Lee got a share of a state wrestling championship after successfully arguing that a scoring error had occurred. In 2016, Westminster's victory over Savannah Arts in a girls tennis championship match was overturned because of an illegal lineup.
The distinction between judgment and application got muddied last year when the GHSA’s board of trustees overruled a judgment call in a baseball playoff game between Johns Creek and Lee County. An umpire ruled that a base-runner did not touch third base on what would have been the game-winning final play. Johns Creek convinced the board that the call was missed, and what had been a Lee County victory was overturned.
In the wake of that, the GHSA moved in October to amend a bylaw that now officially prevents that sort of second-guessing on judgment calls. Before, it had just been tradition not to review judgment calls.
Many question why judgments and rules applications are treated differently. Simplicity and objectivity are the main answers. The application of rules is easier to sort out in retrospect. It almost always involves fact. What is the rule? Was it applied correctly?
Judgment calls, on the other hand, are opinions made by officials at live speed: Was the pitch a ball or a strike? Did the player commit a foul, or not? Did the lineman hold on that play? Did the receiver catch the ball? There are dozens of those judgments made in every basketball, baseball or football game, all open to second-guessing.
‘’You can’t (protest) that because judgment calls are in the eye of the beholder,’’ Hines said. ‘’It would be tremendously impractical to open the door for a field of judgment calls.’’
And short of video replay, those judgment calls usually can’t be fairly arbitrated in retrospect. The GHSA, in following national federation guidelines, does not allow video replay to be used in protests during or after a contest.
And even those judgment calls that appear clear-cut – such as the Peach County pass-and-catch, which video confirmed as a catch – are often more complicated upon further review.
Additional video evidence strongly suggested that the Peach County receiver stepped out of bounds prior to making the catch. Peach County generally concedes that point. If he did, the correct call would be a 15-yard penalty against Peach County and no catch. If the receiver was forced out, which Peach County claims, it would be a legal catch, but video does not clearly support that assertion.
The pass play was one of several that later have been questioned. Video also suggests that Calhoun got the short end of two calls involving turnovers, which also would have been game-changing.
‘’With me it stops with it’s ‘not reviewable or reversible,’ ’’ Hines said, quoting GHSA bylaws. ‘’Regardless of whether it’s a good call or bad is immaterial from my standpoint and position. I’m following the rules.’’