By Tim Malloy
In the first half closing seconds of a hotly contested game in front of a boisterous home crowd, visiting player A-1 steals the ball from B-1 near mid-court and dribbles quickly to the basket trying to score before time expires.
During A-1’s power drive — an apparent premature horn is heard and a startled A-1 launches a shot that caroms off the backboard.
The official closest to the action blows their whistle and it is quickly determined the errant horn did not come from the scorer’s table, but from the rambunctious student section of the home team, who are now enjoying their moment in the spotlight.
The mystery of the phantom horn-blower is quickly solved as the officiating crew observes a policeman and school administrator escorting a fist-pumping student from the gym to the wild cheers and raucous laughter of the surrounding home team faithful.
Now what punishment the law or the school has in store for this rowdy urchin is of little concern to you. The matters that needs to be settled quickly and fairly are what is the consequence, if any, of this interloper’s action, and how will you resume play.
The answer – and by that we mean, guidelines and parameters – can be found in the NFHS rule book under the heading of, Officials’ Additional Duties (Rule 2-8).
Now this rule has enough elasticity and strength for an official to use as an effective tool to climb out of any unforeseen mess; or to get you knotted up and hung by it.
Rule knowledge and the proper personal demeanor by the Referee on the game will keep the dirt off of the officials and quickly clean up the damage.
To paraphrase Rule 2-8, it puts the responsibility of spectator behavior, as reasonably can be expected, on the home team management, and allows officials to punish either team for disruptive behavior by their supporters, but advises discretion be used when considering such action.
Also keep in mind, you are additionally and more firmly supported by Rule 1-18, which prohibits the use of any type of artificial noisemaker and only allows for music and sound effects during pregame, timeouts, intermission and post-game.
You can interpret this rule to mean that you can give a technical foul, but that should not be the first tool out of your bag to rule on unsportsmanlike behavior by someone outside the scope of a player, coach or bench personnel.
However, if it appears, “the prisoners are running he asylum” then a technical foul or fouls, or forfeiture is within the officials purview.
But this cannot emphasized enough — just because you have the power to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.
Immediately following an unusual situation that disrupts play – in this case, a bogus horn – an official should blow their whistle to formally stop play, make eye contact with both head coaches, in particular Team A’s coach who is going to be understandably upset, then come together as a crew to quickly discuss what happened.
After coming to a consensus on what you believe occurred – a fan of Team B sounded the horn while a player on Team A was driving in for a layup – you need to decide, in legal parlance, on the best remedy to ‘compensate’ Team A for their ‘pain and suffering.’
You should not award Team A two points for the field goal you assume they would have scored; so the best alternative would be to award Team A the ball to resume play at the point of interruption.
Now you need to determine, Down and Distance. That is to say, where will the ball will be inbounded, and how much time should be put back on the clock.
In our scenario, that could be at the spot of the steal, and a good faith estimate at how much time was on the clock at that moment.
One could make a reasonable argument to inbound the ball closer to Team A’s basket, but that would also mean reducing critical seconds off the clock.
Either would be a fair and reasonable solution, and the referee in charge would call the two head coaches together at the scorer’s table to explain the ruling.
With this outcome, the home team (Team B) is found to be blameless for the unfortunate and embarrassing incident and therefore was not penalized with a technical foul.
The referee should ask the home team administrator to make an announcement that any further conduct delaying the game will result in a technical foul to the appropriate team.
If you officiate long enough you will see everything from celebratory streamers to angry parents come out of the stands and onto the court during game action.
Now you can’t change what just happened; but you can remedy the situation fairly by focusing on making the affected team whole without punishing the team whose spectator interrupted play.
NFHS Rule Reference: 2-8; 1-18