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Michigan State Vs. Florida Gulf Coast Clock Controversy Raises An Obvious Question

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Tom Izzo said one of three officials on the court incorrectly started the game clock at the end of MSU’s game vs. Florida Gulf Coast. (Getty Images)

UPDATE: Big Ten says official incorrectly started clock early

‘Member when Michigan State upset No. 6 Michigan in football in 2001 on a play that U-M fans say never should have been, thanks to what they perceived as beneficial timekeeping from “Spartan Bob?”

Ooh, I ‘member! That was fantastic!

A similar situation unfolded Sunday night at the Breslin Center, although on a far lesser scale.

MSU escaped upstart Florida Gulf Coast by the narrowest of margins after a timekeeping error that may have rushed the Eagles’ attempt at a buzzer-beater. Between the game’s three officials and the timekeeper at the scorer’s table, someone started the game clock early as FGCU launched a pass from the baseline to inside the arc at their opposite end.

Officials reviewed the play and determined via stopwatch the shot would have counted had it fallen. By the grace of God, the attempt was off–if you think this is a controversy, imagine the fallout had FGCU made that jumper.

But we’ll never know whether hearing that inaccurate buzzer sound or seeing the premature red lights on the backboard influenced Florida Gulf Coast’s last gasp.

One thing we do know, though, is that it’s time for the Big Ten to do in basketball what it did in football more than a decade ago. That is, installing official conference timekeepers at each game instead of letting the host schools handle that responsibility.

I’m not suggesting that Michigan State’s timekeeper intentionally manipulated the clock in the Spartans’ favor last night. For all I know, it was one of the three officials on the court who messed up. And if you heard what Tom Izzo said after the game you’ll probably arrive at that conclusion.

What I am saying, though, is that anytime a situation like the one Sunday night at the Breslin Center presents itself it inextricably carries with it the specter of home cookin’. And that’s something we wouldn’t even have to acknowledge if Big Ten basketball weren’t 15 years behind its football product.

Think about it: If the conference handled official timekeeping duties at all college basketball games like it does for football, we wouldn’t have to even begin to discuss the potential for bias and impropriety. Given the nature and history of college sports, that’s an albatross worth avoiding–especially when the necessary steps are so simple.

In 2016, it just seems anachronistic to have a position as integral to each and every game as timekeeper left up to the discretion of home teams. We live in an era of incredible technological advances; think of all the replay capabilities we have in games now that we didn’t just a handful of years ago.

And let’s not pretend conference appropriation of timekeeping duties is cost prohibitive: the Big Ten raked in about a half-billion dollars last year. This league has the all resources to update this antiquated component of its second-biggest revenue sport. So why hasn’t it?

Maybe this is the kind of incident it will take to drag the Big Ten into the future, just like MSU-Michigan in 2001.

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