NCAA Tournament whistle automatically stops clock

March 23, 2015 / Basketball
Clock operators occasionally make mistakes, but a new system being used during the NCAA Tournament is attempting to curb that problem.

officialwhistleTournament officials are experimenting with a new whistle that automatically stops the clock, eliminating the need for operators who oftentimes don’t react quick enough.

The reaction between whistle and clock is so instantaneous it could save as much as 30 seconds in game time, according to the Washington Post.

The New York Times published an article last week looking at the whistle, its instrumental role in the game of basketball and how it has evolved over the years.

From the article:

Basketball referees express themselves mostly with a whistle. It makes the action stop (a foul, a ball out of bounds, a timeout), though it occasionally foretells that action is about to start (the end of a timeout or a ball about to be inbounded). The sound usually comes in one blast, about a second long. As with a car horn, a different message can be sent with multiple toots. A couple of quick ones might signal a substitution; four full-blown ones might be to try to break up a fight.

“It’s our most important piece of equipment,” Foxcroft said, referring to officials.

Before the Fox 40, games were conducted with a familiar whistle, like Acme’s Thunderer or one of its imitators — a tapered snout protruding from a round end that contained a pea, a small ball of cork, that vibrated inside against an opening to provide sound.

“There is not a major league sport that has not been graced by this whistle,” Acme’s website declares.

But whistles with a pea can be inconsistent noisemakers. The pea can get stuck when blown too hard, or it can be affected by elements, including saliva. Foxcroft officiated the 1976 Olympic gold medal game between the United States and Yugoslavia, when the American Adrian Dantley took an elbow to the face. Foxcroft blew the whistle, but no noise came out. It finally bleated after a few attempts.

The new whistle being tried out in the NCAA Tournament is the most interesting anecdote from the story but it’s a good read, especially if you’re at all intrigued by how much thought goes into a whistle.

You have to wonder how much better the new process will work because computers, like people, are fallible. How often they miss the whistle will help determine how they’re used moving forward.

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