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Sports injuries, bad calls curb our enthusiasm

by J.W. Miller on 03/25/19

Sports is a wonderful thing, but it’s not perfect, and two reasons why it's not perfect are injuries and officiating that we think hurts our team’s chance of winning. I thought about that this week in the context of two prominent events: The NFL convened its annual owners’ meeting, and the NCAA men’s basketball championship is down to the Sweet 16. Two topics among both colleges and the NFL have been injuries and bad calls, and we can wail and moan and huss and fuss, but there's not a darned thing we can do about either!

Let’s talk about injuries first. College and pro teams hire the best medical and training professionals, refine conditioning methods and spend millions for the best equipment available to make their athletes better able to endure the rigors of their individual sport. Still, we as fans are left holding our breath and crossing our fingers that the “injury bug” doesn’t bite important players on our favorite teams. 

That topic is close to my heart at the moment, because Kentucky’s chances in the next round of NCAA tournament play will depend largely on the status of their leader, forward P.J. Washington.  The team's top scorer and rebounder during the season, Washington sprained his foot with two minutes to go in their SEC tournament loss to Tennessee and has been idle ever since. The Wildcats have survived the first two NCAA tournament games through good defense and contributions from the rest of the lineup, but their chances of going much further diminish without Washington. 

Friday night against Houston will be a major test with Washington or without him, and if they pass that one, they will face either North Carolina or Auburn. Kentucky beat both of them during the season, but with Washington. Big Blue Nation cardholders are wringing their hands and still have nightmares of past injuries to players such as Mike Casey, Derek Anderson, Keith Bogans and Nerlens Noel that might have cost them national championships. 

So you’re a Duke fan and don’t care? That’s a good segue to a subject you do care about: controversial officiating. That is a hot topic this morning in the NCAA tournament, especially if you saw the final seconds of the Duke – Central Florida game Sunday. UCF ahead by three and poised to spring an upset of the kind UMBC and Loyola of Chicago pulled last year. But it appeared to some that Duke’s star Zion Williamson, driving to the basket, steamrolled UCF big man Tacko Fall. Not so, said the refs, who called a blocking foul and Fall fouled out. 

Zion missed the FT that would have tied the game, but teammate R.J. Barrett leaped over a UCF player for the rebound and the winning putback. Did Barrett push off to get position? Some would argue he did. But he didn’t, at least according to the officials. Those calls could have gone either way, but didn’t.  And we sure know about no-calls down here in Who Dat Nation, don’t we?

Since we are talking about injuries and officiating, I think it is ironic that the no-call controversy in the Rams game was not over a helmet to helmet hit so much as pass interference. As much as the NFL harped on the injury issue all last season, to have them miss a major injury-related offense is what really blew my skirts up. 

At some point this week, the NFL Competition Committee will discuss changes that could reverse poor calls. Under one proposal, replay would be expanded for one year during which time the list of reviewable plays would be expanded to include fouls for pass interference. The rule proposal would also expand automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul and any point-after attempt following a touchdown. It might make us as fans feel better when a league tries to remedy bad calls or no-calls that hurt our favorite team, but it won’t stop them. Even worse, the new interpretation might just work against our favorite team the first time it is implemented in live action. 

To review, the two worst things in our little sporting worlds are injuries and officiating calls that go the other way. They affect our dreams, they dash our hopes, they curb our enthusiasm for the events we love. You can love sports, but just understand that love of sports doesn't mean sports loves you back. 

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