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The Big Ten Needs to Review How it Calls Fouls On Zach Edey, and Potentially All True Big Men

During Purdue’s one point victory over MSU, 7’4” center Zach Edey threw Spartan center Mady Sissoko to the ground. The announcers cheered and the refs called Sissoko for the foul. A change is needed.

Purdue v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

I dislike ranting about referees. It’s too easy to hate on them. It’s too easy to let your love of one team, or one outcome overshadow objectivity. It’s also usually not productive game to game, as in it doesn’t actually change anything moving forward.

It’s particularly annoying to rant after a loss about the refs. Even if true (and it often is), the complaint loses something if everyone simply assumes your sour grapes about the loss.

In this situation, MSU lost a passionate and tight game to the Purdue Boilermakers. Know that I’d be writing this regardless of the final outcome.

Since it’s cliche to complain about refs, I am going to start this discussion about fouls complaining about the announcers.

Let me set the scene.

At about the 6-minute mark left in the first half, Mady Sissoko was called for a foul. Not a shocking outcome for an all too foul prone player. The shocking part was Sissoko was called for the foul after being body slammed by Zach Edey.

Sissoko and Edey both went for a rebound and got tangled up. Edey did have primary control of the ball, and whipped his body around to shake off Sissoko. If that was all that happened, then the foul is called on Sissoko and we all move on. Except, replay showed a few key moments in the play.

Edey locks Sissoko’s arm into a death grip, then proceeds to do a three point step move, where he spins a complete 360 degrees and uses Sissoko’s arm as a leverage point to hip throw the Spartan Center up and over Edey’s body and to the floor. This move looks familiar to me, as I wrestled in High School, and am pretty sure I was shown how to do this.

Here is a (admittedly not great) video clip of the play:

In this instance, Edey did two key things that should have changed the foul call:

1- Locked Sissoko’s arm in place

2- Made a move that dragged Sissoko all the way around his body and slammed him to the floor (Rather than the more standard hard back and forth shake)

These actions are classic indicators for the NCAA “hook and hold” rule. This foul should immediately be classified a flagrant 1, that would have awarded MSU two free throws and possession. It can be argued, though I’m not sure I’d agree, that a flagrant 2 should have been considered that would have changed this game by ejecting Edey.

The irony that this was not called against Purdue is thick. The hook and hold rule was created as a reaction to Purdue’s last towering behemoth, Isaac Haas, fracturing his elbow after being thrown to the ground going for a rebound. It was a foul called often for about 1.5 years, and almost always when a big man was thrown to the ground (and seemingly never when a guard was - but that’s a different rant).

Lately, the call has seemed to disappear.

In this game, the announcers, a usually competent crew (I am a decent fan of Bill Rafferty) watched this play and then APPLAUDED Zach Edey for “standing up for himself.”

I don’t get it. Maybe in other games, Edey gets hacked (I’d say it’s definitely happened). MSU did not approach this game that way. There was no evidence of that type of over physical approach to any of Michigan State’s defense. Instead, Edey throws an opposing player to the ground, in a scenario that could have been devastating injury wise, and the announcers are happy.

If we are to take player safety seriously, then announcers cannot clap watching a player hip thrown across the floor.

And the referees should have gone to the monitor. Instead it feels like the preconceptions of the situation led to the foul call and a quick move on.

I feel like Mady Sissoko ends up on the floor a lot. I think referees see it as a less coordinated player, doing too much. And they don’t call fouls when Sissoko hits the floor. In another instance in this game, Purdue’s Furst took out Sissoko’s legs while the Spartan center was in the air for a rebound, and the refs didn’t call anything. A foul call here was supposed to be a point of emphasis last year.

Refs are human, and if they expect a guy on the floor a lot, I think they just let it go. Similarly, they make decisions to simply not call fouls on other players.

Zach Edey is incredibly physical. He wrestled Sissoko, Cooper and Kohler throughout the game for position. Sometimes getting completely tangled up, and sometimes drawing fouls for the mutual pushing.

It boggles the mind that Edey plays that physical and ends this game with no fouls.

I acknowledge Edey is a relatively clean player. I don’t have a long list of dirty plays. Simply, physical play that routinely gets called a foul when any other player does anything remotely like it.

In this game specifically, I did not see many wildly flagrant fouls by Edey (minus the hip throw). What I did see - and even the announcers mentioned a few times - was Edey going over the back multiple times. Centers get called for going over the back of smaller players all the time. Just because Edey is going over the back of other centers, does not make it ok. In fact, the foul call is by rule meant to reward smaller players for getting in position. Yet, it seems that concept does not apply when a guy is 7’4”.

Apparently, Edey is committing less than 1.5 fouls a game this year. But he is drawing a huge amount. One way to show that is Edey has taken 122 FTs. Individually taking almost half as many free throws as the ENTIRE MSU ROSTER COMBINED has taken this year.

The refs clearly don’t know what to do with Edey. He is so big, I think they are afraid of calling fouls just because of his size. The problem is, they are opening up a situation where Edey draws tons of fouls, and runs roughshod over the competition.

This should be looked at by the league. Not to change the MSU game outcome - I’m not that naive - but to address for competitive balance purposes as well as player safety. Tonight, Mady Sissoko was not protected by the refs.

Oh, and remind refs what a hook and hold call is designed to stop. Maybe Isaac Haas can help remind them.