The very first page of the 2011-12 NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Rules Book is titled, "Respect. It's the name of the game." On Saturday, UNC got very close to violating that basic tenet of collegiate sport.
With the FSU Seminoles on the verge of a 33-point upset over the then-No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels, UNC head coach Roy Williams appeared to pull his bench from the court in the game's final moments as hundreds of excited FSU fans prepared to rush the court, leaving behind five walk-ons to finish the game.
Given the circumstances, the decision for UNC's bench to leave the court before the final horn was a sensible choice made in the interest of safety.
On Saturday, Williams appeared to have simultaneously addressed the safety issue (by prematurely pulling all but the five necessary persons to finish the game) while maintaining decorum and respect for the game of basketball (by allowing the game to properly end).
Yet days later, Williams admitted, "I was trying to get my entire team off the court," which would include the five walk-on players that instead remained for those final seconds and had to find their way off the court through the chaos that followed the expiration of time.
Williams said he apologized to his players, stating, "'Guys, I apologize ... I would never have left you out there to play the game.'"
In other words, the UNC head coach's intended plan was to remove every single UNC player, coach and staffer from the floor with 14.2 seconds still remaining in regulation, as opposed to leaving five UNC players on the court for the remainder of the contest.
With those comments, Williams might have increased his standing with fans of unity and concern for players, but he decidedly diminished his record when it comes to respect for the game.
Just as passionate college or scholastic basketball fans have made a tradition out of rushing the court after a huge victory, one of the most vital traditions for those who actually play, coach or officiate the game is that the game is played to the final horn, to its completion, to triple-zeroes.
This core tradition seems to have been ingrained in the minds of the five players who stayed behind.
The NCAA Rules Book has a name and section number (4-28) for games that are not played to completion: these contests are called forfeits.
For the record, the last NCAA men's basketball contest to be declared a forfeit was a Dec. 10, 2011 contest between the Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers. That game was prematurely terminated due to a bench-clearing brawl.
For the sake of tradition and respect for the game, Williams should consider himself fortunate his plan did not come to fruition.
A blowout and upset? Teams have bad games. It happens.
Removing his bench prior to the game's end? It was a safety issue. It was a wise move.
UNC can easily overcome both occurrences.
Removing an entire team from the court, so that the game's final 14.2 seconds cannot not be played?
That is an unenviable situation known as a forfeit, a word associated with fights, brawls, melees, protests, poor sportsmanship and a lack of respect for the game and sport of basketball.
UNC and Williams should count themselves very fortunate the FSU blowout never came to that.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a Web site dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.
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