The call that prevented Florida Gulf Coast from executing arguably the play/shot of the season on Tuesday night was correctly made.
Curtis Shaw, coordinator of officials for five leagues (Big 12, Conference USA, AAC, OVC and Southland) assigned the officials for the game between Florida Gulf Coast and South Florida. He told CBSSports.com the officials were on point and the game ended as it should have, a 68-66 double-overtime final in favor of South Florida.
The controversy bubbled because what people saw went against what the call became. FGCU's Chase Fieler caught the ball off a full-court pass with 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock. As you can see in the video above, Fieler clearly gets the shot off in time -- and the clock seems to start just as he catches it.
But the play was dead before Fieler ever released the shot. The rule on a tap specifically states (page 62, section 67) that once a player "possesses" the ball with 0.3 seconds or fewer remaining, the play is over.
But what, in practical terms, defines possessing and what defines a tap?
"The call at the end, by rule, is exactly correct," Shaw said. "If you look at a definition of a tap, it's any time you don't have possession, you just tap the ball in whichever direction, as opposed to having control and being able to control the ball. I've seen [Tuesday's play] once on a Web replay. It's not the greatest look that I've seen, but in my opinion there's no doubt he caught the ball and let go of it. I consider that he had control on the catch."
CBSSports.com reached out to NCAA national coordinator of officiating John Adams about the play, but he could not speak on it, as he said he'd not yet seen the play due to his travel schedule. He also emphasized what Shaw said: By rule, if a player possesses the ball with 0.3 or less remaining, the play is over.
The rule in college is different from protocol at the NBA level. In 2011, the NBA altered its rule from 0.3 to 0.2 seconds needed for only a tipped/tapped ball, meaning if Fieler's shot was taken in the pros it would've counted.
"I don't disagree that this is one of the rarest circumstances I've ever seen, that he did possess and drop in time, however, by rule, it cannot count," Shaw said. "I'm not making any judgments. That's an issue for our rules committee and our national coordinator. ... Sometimes it takes a play of this magnitude in order for us to go back and adjust our rules.
The irony is this: At the NCAA level the referees do not make the rules. The rules committee, which is now led by Belmont coach Rick Byrd, votes every two years on legislation that will be brought to the game. Only rules that are directly tied to safety are eligible to be voted in on a yearly basis. With legislation implemented this past offseason -- i.e., the new points of emphasis for hand-check and blocks/charges -- the soonest a change could come for this rule would be at the start of the 2015-16 season.