Quote of the Day:
“I’ve been at this a long time, and one thing I’ve learned: At Mississippi State, you’re supposed to take it and be quiet. I had a hard time swallowing this pill because so much was at stake and my players were affected. When does the truth matter?” –MSU Basketball Coach Rick Stansbury, on being robbed
There was no special edition of Thursday Pickin’ for this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. I’m not even watching, save to catch the scores of SEC games in hopes all they all lose. TB just can’t enjoy it this year, not when my Bulldogs were, predictably, unfairly excluded. It is not a boycott or a protest of any sort, it’s just that with every instance of sporting injustice a little bit of the fan in me dies. I couldn’t conger up enough interest this year to even fill out a bracket. Every time I looked at one all I saw was Kentucky’s John Wall and his smirking, supremely talented mug dashing illegally through the lane to get the rebound that ultimately defeated Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament Championship and blocked them from participation in the Big Dance.
In sports, it is taboo to “blame the refs.” “One play” the logic goes, “doesn’t beat you.” You had many other opportunities to overcome a bad call and you made too many other mistakes to hang an outcome on the referee. All this is true. But its a fallacy, one we accept because sports are extremely difficult to officiate, mistakes are inevitable, and the consensus opinion is that the breaks even out in the long run. Thus, we should never blame the refs.
But one call, one play can beat you. The logic that a team should overcome a bad call or not be in a position to have a bad call beat them is faulty. I recall an instance when I was sixteen years old pitching in a baseball tournament in Pensacola, Florida, against a team of Washington all-staters. In the first inning I had a 2-2 count on their cleanup hitter with two men on and I put a fastball over the outside corner at the knees. The ump called a ball and I lost my cool. The next pitch was overthrown and sent right down the middle. That big hoss knocked the shit out of the ball, damn near gave me whiplash as I turned to see it sailing over the horizon. We were down 3-0. I got out of the inning without further damage and as I walked to the dugout I detoured toward the ump, pointing at him and yelling, “those three are on you.” He came toward me and for a second I thought I was to be ejected, but he simply leaned in and quietly said, “I blew the call.” We lost the game 4-3. We had 21 lost opportunities at the plate to score 5 but we didn’t. Or, I could’ve settled down and not served up a fat pitch. But no matter what, that first inning blown call cost us the game. And you know what, I’ve never been bitter about it. A call like that is part of the game. The ump wasn’t cheating, and the reason I’ve always remembered that game is not because “we was robbed” but because it was so classy of him to admit he missed the call in the face of a punk teenager who had just called him out in front of hundreds of adults and other kids. Still, to ignore that those three runs cost us the game is to ignore the facts.
In the same way, Wall’s lane violation led to his rebound that led to his shot that missed and bounced straight to Demarcus Cousins who tipped back in at the buzzer. The missed call cost State the game, the tournament and a spot in the Dance. I know it’s bad form to hang that on the refs, but when a championship is on the line, it ought not be so damn predictable which way the breaks are gonna go. And when it happens that a team gets robbed we ought not be afraid to call it out. And even with all that, I could live with the call if I hadn’t known beyond the shadow of a doubt that MSU would not get an at-large bid in defeat. The committee said we were the first team eliminated and it was a tough call and they took into account all sorts of factors against us, many of them opposite the factors they have used to exclude us in past bubble years. But they never mentioned the consideration of the fact that we should’ve been in except that we were robbed of the automatic bid by the refs. And ultimately, that is what burns my ass.