A Sports Question

I don’t know much about sports, so here’s a question/observation. Follow me if you can…

I was watching a basketball game recently where the score was close. Just before the end of the game the ball went out of bounds with a second or two left on the clock. The referees went to a TV on the side of the court and determined that the guy in charge of the clock hadn’t turned off the clock fast enough. So another .4 seconds were put back on the clock.

I didn’t think much about this at first, but then I realized that by scrutinizing the timekeeper at the end of the game and at no other time, what the action was essentially saying was that the timekeeper (and the time on the clock) had been correct all the way through the half except for the last two seconds. This I say simply because the officials were using the game clock to determine how much time was left when the ball went out of bounds. But by putting time .4 seconds back on the clock, the officials were essentially saying that the timekeeper had made one error through all the clock’s stops and starts, an that error occurring during the last two seconds of the game.

Who is not thinking logically, me or the basketball officals?


Technically, .4 seconds is just as important in the first minute of the game as it is in the last minute of the game. But practically, that’s just not true. Teams drastically alter their gameplay at the end of the game (and half) to maximize every fraction of a second - something they absolutely do not care about for most of the rest of the game. Because of this, the refs will go back to the tape. It’s entirely impractical for them to do so at every single other instance.

But how could the timekeeper ever react fast enough? Normal human reaction times are between .15 and .30 seconds. He can’t react at the moment the ball goes out.

I guess my point is, the officals are putting .4 seconds onto a clock that is probably incorrect anyway, given that there was deemed a .4 second error the very last time the timekeeper pushed the button to halt the clock.

A ball goes out of bounds just before the end of a game (or half) during a close game. There’s 2 seconds (for example) left on the clock. Has there ever been an occasion when the officials will halt the game and go over to the court’s TV monitor to see if time should be taken off the clock?

Good question. If a football team makes a big gain, the guys with the poles and chain just run up the side line and plunk them down. Now it the next time, it is close, they go running out and measure. Measure from where?

The measurement is actually fairly precise. The chain is exactly 10 yards from pole to pole, and there is a clip that aligns the measurement on the chain, placed at the back half of the intervening 5-yard line. The guy in the middle places the clip, the pole holders align off that placement, and there you have it.

That said, it’s the spot that sucks. How, precisely, do they get a spot on a ball underneath 11 men that demands a precise measurement?

There’s a lot of slop built into the game. There has to be, otherwise there will be blood in the streets every week due to fan outrage. For example, typically the only penalties called are those so egregious that they simply cannot be ignored. Otherwise every single play would result in a penalty.

From where they put the sticks last time? A referee grabs a link of chain that’s at a specific spot on the field (i.e. the left edge of the 40 yard line) and runs out on to the field, then puts that link in the predetermined spot so it’s accurate.

But yes, the initial placement is often arbitrary.

I think I saw this game

In the NBA, refs are allowed to review things using instant replay at the end of a quarter or in the last 2 mins of the game. What you probably saw was the refs making sure exactly how much time to put back on the clock after a foul in a close game. No team is going to make a big deal about it if they’re down by 10 or 20 points, but in a close game they could raise a stink if they choose to.

Moving to the Game Room.

General Questions Moderator

Doesn’t matter how imprecise the clock has been all game. Each time a new play starts, both teams are operating under the assumption that the clock is perfectly correct. If they disagreed about a major difference, they’d have done so at the time of the dispute. But they don’t - because early in the game it just doesn’t matter.

Sure, but not as frequently because errors like that tend to be errors of delay, not errors of anticipation.

When you get to the end, players will play based on how much time is left. They may, for example, stand there dribbling for 5 or 10 seconds, then start their drive to the basket with 10 seconds left. If by keeping very accurate time, there’d be an extra 5 seconds on the clock, they’ll stand there dribbling for 10 or 15 seconds instead.

One other thing that should be noted for this case - I’m assuming that this was an NBA game - is that fractions of a second are very important in the last second of the game. The Trent Tucker Rule disallows non-tipped field goals off of plays that began with 0.1 or 0.2 seconds remaining. This rule makes precision important with less than a second left, ignoring how inaccurate the clock may be at that point.