Basketball: Illegal uniforms cost team in playoff loss

Above: The black ring under the armpit was a violation of uniform policy.

Above: An example of the jersey rules from the website

From Rivals

Teams have lost basketball games at the charity stripe. They’ve lost because a referee wearing black and white stripes made a bad call.

Losing partly because of a stripe on their uniforms is a little rarer.

But that’s what happened before the opening tipoff Friday at the Illinois 3A state semifinal basketball game in Peoria, where referees assessed a technical foul on North Lawndale College Prep because stripes on the sides of its uniform violated a National Federation of State High School Associations rule.

Champaign Centennial’s Jeff Johnson sank one of two free throws, giving the Chargers a 1-0 lead before the opening tip. Centennial also was awarded the ball to start the game. When the final buzzer had sounded, Centennial had won by one point, 66-65.

The rule states that the torso of the jersey must be a solid color and that side stripes must center vertically below the armpit and be no more than four inches wide. North Lawndale’s uniform featured black stripes that curled around the armpits into the torso.

While the national federation makes the rules, state associations interpret them. Kurt Gibson, the Illinois High School Association assistant executive director over boys basketball, told the Chicago Tribune that he had warned North Lawndale that its uniforms were illegal during its previous day’s shootaround at Carver Arena and on several occasions during the past two years.

“They had ample warning,” Gibson told the paper. “If they had to put together white uniforms of differing styles, that’s fine – so long as they adhered to the uniform rule.”

Gibson told the Tribune he does not know how often the rule is enforced.

North Lawndale coach Lewis Thorpe said Gibson had not mentioned the problem when he attended a Public League quarterfinal playoff game in February.

“I can’t understand why they didn’t tell us before about the uniforms,” he told the paper. “This is the most painful loss I’ve had since I’ve been coaching.”

Mary Struckhoff, NFSHSA national interpreter for basketball rules and rules editor, said the regulations have not changed in the 10 years she has worked for the association, and they exist for a reason: “Quick recognition, sanctity of the number.”

She said opponents, referees and scorekeepers must be able to identify a player quickly, often by using the number. Certain uniform designs could obscure it.

“We have very specific guidelines, and once you say, well, four inches could really be five inches, then five inches could really be six, and what difference does it make?” Struckhoff said. “So, so to speak and pardon the pun, where do you draw the line? Four inches is four inches.”

The game was about more than one technical foul, of course. Despite starting the game in the hole, Lawndale was leading in the fourth quarter until Centennial’s 21-point, fourth- quarter surge gave it the victory. Centennial defeated Oswego, 61-59, for the state championship Saturday.

North Lawndale wore the same uniforms in its third-place game against Leo the next day and again was assessed a technical foul. As before, the team fell behind 1-0 before tipoff, but this time it won, 91-77.

Thorpe said his team was wearing the same uniforms it had worn all year and wasn’t trying to make a statement. Its alternate uniforms, which it had worn the previous year, also violated the rule.

Struckhoff said the national federation began emphasizing uniform regulations two years ago at the behest of manufacturers, who said coaches were insisting on purchasing illegal uniforms because the rules were rarely enforced. A PDF file on the national federation’s website clearly demonstrates uniform regulations.

“This PDF is almost like ‘Uniforms for Dummies,’ ” she said.

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