Possible replay in high school under review

Merrimack High School’s Noah Beygelman caused quite an uproar when his 3-point shot swished through the net at the conclusion of March 19’s Division I boys basketball final.

The overtime shot looked good to Merrimack’s players, coaches and fans. Manchester Central’s contingent, filling the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, disagreed with the Tomahawks’ assessment.

All that mattered in that moment was the judgment call of the basketball officials – Adam Hicks, Dan Christopher and Peter Burkhart.

Hicks showed no hesitation. He sprinted from his position on the right wing of the court toward the scorer’s table on the opposite side, all the while waving off Beygelman’s shot.

It locked down a second title in three years for the Little Green, both against the Tomahawks – this one by a score of 60-58.

Seconds after the final horn, the topic of instant replay was circulating the gymnasium. It’s a discussion the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association is willing to have, according to Executive Director Jeffrey T. Collins, about a rule that doesn’t seem likely to change any time in the near future.

"According to NHIAA bylaws, replay cannot be used," Collins said, adding that no coaches or administrators have contacted him to start a discussion about replay moving forward. "It’s prohibited.

"I’ve called around to other associations in Section I, and nobody I’ve talked to in New England or New York uses it. I’m not really sure what states do use replay, but nobody I’ve talked to is using it."

According to a USA Today report from October 2011, there is actually one New England state utilizing replay. Connecticut is one of 10 state associations to allow instant replay in championship games. Four of those states, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin go even further, consenting to review in the semifinals as well.

The remaining states on board with replay, as of five years ago, are Pennsylvania, Alabama, Indiana, Nebraska and Texas.

The Minnesota State High School League was the first to adopt replay for state championship games in basketball, and for all goals during ice hockey tournament, in 2005 – fours years before the National Federation of State High School Associations would sanction its use during game-ending situations in state tournament basketball play.

In 2009, the NFHS Basketball Rules Committee made an addition to Rule 2-2-1, allowing state associations the "opportunity to use technology, if available, to assist in making sure that the correct team is awarded the state championship," as stated in the official press release. "Replay or game officials will be able to determine if the attempt occurred before time expired (0:00 on clock), and whether the shot was a two-point or three-point attempt."

In that same release, Mary Struckhoff, an NFHS assistant director and liaison to the Basketball Rules Committee at the time, stressed the need for a correct call in end-of-game situations.

"Coaches, participants, spectators and media now hold game officials to a higher, almost impossible standard," Struckhoff said. "When available, technology should be used to assist game officials and administrators in making the correct call when the outcome of the game hangs in the balance and a team has no further opportunity to overcome a critical error. This change provides state associations that opportunity."

Not long after the buzzer sounded to end overtime of Manchester Central’s victory at UNH, longtime Little Green coach David "Doc" Wheeler was asked if the NHIAA should look into replay going forward.

"I would hope it would," Wheeler said. "I would hope it would. I think the most important thing is to get it right. Is it for the kids, or not? Get it right, and the kids that deserve to win should win."

On the other side of the result was Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge, who one might think because of the game’s outcome would also advocate for the use of video technology. He doesn’t.

"It is what it is," Goodridge said. "We’ve been playing sports for a lot of years without the need for replay. The last thing I want is for high school sports to become like pro sports, using instant replay that slows the game down and half the time the call still isn’t right. I’m old school. We’ve gotten it right for 40 years.

"Adam made the right call, and he didn’t need any replay."

As is the case with the two coaches involved in this year’s Division I title game, there is a mixed reaction statewide.

One of the biggest officiating blunders came early in the regular season between the Salem and Winnacunnet boys basketball teams.

Salem’s Matt McLaughlin drained what appeared to be a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the win on Feb. 12, but game officials ruled otherwise – claiming McLaughlin’s shot hit the net under the basket and never entered the cylinder.

Blue Devils coach Rob McLaughlin filed a protest immediately, but was denied by the NHIAA the next morning. Winnacunnet was officially credited with a 46-44 win, despite efforts by the Warriors athletic department, coaches and players to get the NHIAA to reverse the decision as well.

Despite video evidence that McLaughlin’s shot was good, the NHIAA denied the appeal from both squads because association bylaws prohibit replay and judgment calls by officials are not subject to protest.

"That situation wouldn’t have fallen under the scope allowed by the National Federation," Collins said. "What’s allowed, according to federation rules is for tournament games only."

While Rob McLaughlin understands that the outcome of his game ultimately wouldn’t have changed, even if the NHIAA allowed replay, he doesn’t want a similar situation to arise in a championship matchup.

Of course, 37 days later Beygelman sparked the debate again.

"I would look at anything that would make the experience better for the kids," the Salem coach said, "no matter the sport.

"I don’t know if they have discussed it before, or how often they would discuss that kind of stuff. But I think they should discuss replay. It doesn’t hurt to have the conversation."