December 3, 2023 

Ball Dawgs Classic refs called wrong 3-point line throughout Thanksgiving tournament

The Next investigates one of the strangest reffing mix-ups of the year.

It’s Friday, Nov. 24. No. 13 Florida State has gotten off to a hot start in the Ball Dawgs Classic championship game, a top-15 matchup between the Noles and the fourth-ranked Cardinal. With Stanford trying to close a seven-point deficit near the end of the first quarter, Talana Lepolo notices her defender has completely lost sight of her while trying to fill the lane. Lepolo lifts toward the key, receives a swing pass and takes a wide-open 23-foot jumper. She makes it, and referee Teresa Turner signals to add two points for the Cardinal.

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One problem: A 23-footer in college basketball is always worth three points. Women’s, men’s, club, intramural — it’s always worth three points. Except for the 2023 Ball Dawgs Classic.

The same thing happened to Ta’Niya Latson just 12 seconds later. Taking an early clock boomerang from Alexis Tucker, Latson let it fly from 24 feet out — as Turner again signals for two points:

It has been three years since nearly every women’s basketball regular season game was played on a court with two different 3-point lines. The men’s college basketball arc was moved from 20’9 back to 22’1.75 above the break, one year before the women’s arc was moved back to match (this brought both into alignment with the WNBA and FIBA.) Despite the odd visual, referees in 2020–21 did not have much of an issue with determining which line they were supposed to be calling. And they haven’t had trouble in the years since at courts that still haven’t removed the vestigial arc, such as Kansas State, Penn State and the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament hardwood.

Most remarkably, the 2022 San Diego Invitational featured the pre-2020 3-point arc, the post-2021 arc and a 23’9 NBA-length arc despite Pechanga Arena not regularly hosting basketball games at any level. Dollar Loan Center, the Henderson, Nev. site of the Ball Dawgs Classic, at least has reason for its two 3-point lines: the arena is home to the NBA G League Ignite, whose league uses NBA dimensions, and hosted a G League game the day after the college tournament concluded. The San Diego Invitational refs had no issue calling the correct line.1 The Ball Dawgs Classic refs, not so much.

Throughout the Ball Dawgs Classic, referees called women’s college basketball games according to the NBA 3-point arc, despite a court that was color-coded so the shorter 3-point arc and the thinner, college-width free-throw lane were painted in black, contrasting with the white NBA lines. In the championship between Florida State and Stanford, five shots were incorrectly called as 2-pointers instead of 3-pointers by the refs. Three of those were made baskets, including the Lepolo 23-footer and Latson 24-footer, in addition to a later shot from about 22.5 feet by Latson.

A spokesperson for Stanford confirmed to The Next that the Cardinal is aware of this issue. The spokesperson added that Florida State is also aware.

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But the programs almost certainly won’t be able to correct their players’ scoring totals. NCAA Rule 2-4.3 states, “when all officials leave the visual confines of the playing area at the end of the game, the officials’ jurisdiction has ended and the score has been approved,” a rule that was explicitly clarified to coaching staffs before the start of this season. The inverse of the fourth out, scoring issues can only be corrected if somebody notices within a certain period of time. The fact that Stanford won 100–88, meaning that correcting Lepolo and Latson’s totals would not change the outcome of the game, is irrelevant to the letter of the law.

Those jurisprudence fetishists among us will note that Rule 2-4.3 only bars retroactive changes that affect the final score. The two missed shots among the five total miscalled jumpers now appear in the official box score as missed 3-pointers, despite referee (and former ABL player and Locked On Women’s Basketball guest) Anita Ortega clearly calling both as 2-pointers.

In theory, calling all shots shorter than 23’9 as 2-pointers doesn’t change much for programs with the talent and pro-style play of Stanford and Florida State. This year, WNBA teams took more shots from beyond 24 feet than they did above-the-break 3-pointers, per WNBA Advanced Stats. This should be effectively impossible2, but it certainly indicates that a good majority of professional-length threes are taken at least a couple of feet behind the arc.

But the second of Latson’s miscalled jumpers reveals the issue. The Noles start in a box alignment and Makayla Timpson sets a down screen for Latson, so she knows that when the Cardinal doesn’t switch, she can take a more comfortable shot by fading off the screen. Athletes in any sport who run routes without the ball train by learning the number of steps it takes to run their route — receivers in football don’t actually run a five-yard out, they run a three-step out. So Latson knows that, when she starts fading off her third step, her fourth will create a stepback 3-pointer right behind the line.

A 3-pointer everywhere but the Ball Dawgs Classic, that is.

The silliest part of all is you end up with shot charts correctly identifying these shots as being 22-, 23-, 24-footers, but have to fit them squarely inside the 3-point line anyway. Which, to reiterate, a 22-foot shot means your heel is on the line.

Source: CBB Analytics

Aggravatingly, there was a men’s college basketball tournament at Dollar Loan Center during the same days the women’s games were played, and those refs called their shots correctly. And that’s what this really comes down to: women’s basketball reffing is quietly having a serious crisis, where refs aren’t being paid enough for the game to get the level of officiating it deserves.

In the meantime, at least we can enjoy this ref from the UCLA–UConn game in the Caymans nearly making the same mistake but quickly correcting himself.

Just another win for FloHoops Feast Week.

Alex Simon and Lincoln Shafer contributed reporting to this story.

  1. Shout-out to referees Saif Esho, Brian Garland, Kim Hobbs, Doug Knight, Scott Osborne and Ify Seales for how well they navigated that challenge.
  2. Either dozens of 3-pointers were taken from the corner with the shooter’s heels literally hanging over the sideline, or the league statisticians are being a bit loose with how they estimate shot distances.

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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