The Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team’s season record is 16-16 – had they not won the NEC Tournament (and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament) they would not have been selected to go to the NCAA Tournament starting with the play-in games tomorrow in Dayton. However, they won their NEC Tournament quarterfinal game because they had six defenders on the court in the closing minute that led directly to a come-from-behind victory.
Because neither the officials nor St. Francis, their opponent for this quarterfinal game, noticed the extra player there really wasn’t any recourse to be taken. Mount St. Mary’s still had to then win their next two games in order to make the NCAA Tournament so there were other opportunities for other teams to keep them from making it.
However, because of the failure to confirm that there were no illegally-participating players on the court, the 2014 NEC Tournament will live on in infamy. The NEC has acknowledged the officiating error.
But how could this have been prevented? It appears that the teams were coming out of a time out or a stoppage in play, so an issue with communicating players checking in or out may have happened – the player checking in for MSM may not have informed the player checking out to go to the bench so that player just assumed he was still in the game.
In the NFL and in college football you can sometimes catch kick/punt return players counting the number of players on the field to confirm all the proper substitutions have been made legally, and the officials will do the same after every play. Maybe basketball could do the same if they aren’t doing so already.
Whether there is a technological error-proofing solution to the problem (RFID tags on jerseys for example) or a process improvement (officials counting players prior to handing the ball to the inbounding player to resume play), knowing there are the right number of legal players on the court needs to be the first priority before the game should resume.