David Adam

Does the punishment fit Bottorff's crime?

Quincy Notre Dame's Jacob Mayfield, left, has words with Pleasant Plains' Nik Clemens after Clemens and the Raiders' Justin Bottorff got into an altercation late in the second half of their Class 2A Regional championship game Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, at the Pit. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
Phil Carlson1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 27, 2017 8:05 am Updated: Feb. 27, 2017 9:23 pm

UPDATE: Quincy Notre Dame athletic director Bill Connell said Monday afternoon that Bottorff will not play in Tuesday's sectional semifinal.

So what did Quincy Notre Dame's Justin Bottorff say or do to merit being ejected from Friday night's Class 2A regional basketball championship game against Pleasant Plains?

That question dominated the post-regional sports weekend. The story about his ejection is the most-read sports story on The Herald-Whig's website this year.

QND athletic director Bill Connell is determined to get an explanation. He said Sunday night that he has called and texted Kurt Gibson, an assistant executive director at the Illinois High School Association in charge of basketball, asking him to review what happened.

Connell has sent Gibson video clips that he says supports his belief Bottorff's actions were not egregious enough to deserve being kicked out of the game (which means Bottorff is suspended for Tuesday's sectional semifinal against Stanford Olympia). He also says the method in which the officials handled the situation was improper.

No official appeals process is in place for incidents like this, but Connell believes his 20-plus years of working with Gibson will at least warrant a discussion between the two.

If you haven't seen video replays from WGEM or Channel 1450 out of Springfield on social media, let's review.

Bottorff, the Raiders' leading scorer this season, was driving to the basket along the baseline with 50 seconds left to play and QND leading by 10 points. Pleasant Plains' Nic Clemens came down the lane and fouled Bottorff.

Was it a hard foul? Yes. Was it an intentional foul? Clemens hit Bottorff with his right forearm and shoulder, but the videos show also that Clemens' left arm was extended as if to block a shot -- a basketball play, if you will.

Bottorff was not knocked to the floor but landed well out of bounds on his feet. He tucked the ball under his right arm, and both players took steps toward each other. Video clearly shows Clemens yelling at Bottorff. It would be fair to assume Bottorff likely returned the favor.

Official Darrin Sortor, who whistled the foul call, ran about 6 feet to pull Bottorff away, then addressed Clemens. Jacob Mayfield, Bottorff's teammate, wrapped his arms around Clemens and tried to pull him away, and official Brian Sorrill came in to help Mayfield.

Cole Greer, Clemens' teammate, came in to join the "discussion," then shoved Bottorff away with his left arm after Mayfield grabbed Clemens. Bottorff continued to back away, but in doing so, he held his arms out, shimmied his shoulders and shook his head from side to side. The video is shot from behind Bottorff, so it's not clear that he's talking to Clemens, but it would be surprising if he's not.

Official Robb Sitton took Bottorff to the corner of the gym at the end of the QND bench. They spoke for a moment, then Bottorff held out the ball to Sitton and started walking to midcourt. Sitton clapped his hands, then ran back to help his partners.

What was said between Clemens and Bottorff? Only they know. It was so loud in the Pit that it's unlikely anybody heard anything. Video shot by WGEM Sports Director Ben Marth from a few feet away shows the confrontation, but any words exchanged by the two (or anyone else) were not picked up by his microphone because they were drowned out by crowd noise.

It's also unlikely that the officials heard the exchange. After Sortor blew the first whistle, several whistles were blown as players and officials converged around Clemens and Bottorff. Approximately four seconds elapsed from the time that Clemens fouled Bottorff to the time Sortor pulled Bottorff away.

Sortor met with his partners, then went to the scorer's table to inform official scorer Beth Cash (also pulling in QND coach Kevin Meyer and Pleasant Plains coach Kyle Weber) that he had given technical fouls to Clemens and Bottorff. He also said he was ejecting them from the game.

The ejected players, however, never left the bench for the final 50 seconds. No announcement of their ejection was made on the public address system. Connell said he didn't learn of the ejections until after he had given the regional championship plaque to the Raiders.

Back to the original question. Did Bottorff merit being ejected?

Based solely on the confrontation under the basket, it would appear to be no. The technicals appear to be deserved, but it was a brief skirmish. Bottorff backed away and appeared to have cooperated with Sitton. It took a few more seconds for Sortor and Sorrell to corral Clemens.

However, the game was not an easy one to officiate.

Forty-one fouls were called. Technical fouls were called on two other QND players, and Sitton nearly called a third one in the second half. When a jump ball was called in front of the Pleasant Plains bench earlier in the game, Clemens was pulled from the pile, then immediately tried to get back into the scrum.

Trash was talked. Fans on both sides were loud, obnoxious and rude to players, officials and coaches. Some were removed from the gym. Establishing control of that game from an officiating standpoint was like wrestling a tiger in a cage.

So when the skirmish between Clemens and Bottorff ended, would it be understandable for an emotional and weary Sortor to think, "We've tried to control this game with regular fouls and technical fouls, and this game is still out of control. Now I'm going to start throwing people out"?

Was that ejection the proper way for Sortor to cap a long night? After a couple of days to think, does Sortor regret making an emotional call that impacts one team greatly while the other team is largely unaffected?

And, fair or not, this year's Raiders have a reputation for complaining. (Don't believe me? Ask an official within 100 miles of Quincy.) The number of technical fouls whistled against QND is in double digits. Officials work with other officials, and they talk.

Could that have factored in the decision to eject the two players? Should it have?

That's for Gibson to determine ... if he wants to. He doesn't have to investigate the incident. He could easily let the decision of the officials stand. The IHSA's by-laws don't allow for an IHSA representative to change an official's call.

However, it's likely Gibson will at least listen to Connell, take a moment to watch the video and talk with the officiating crew.

If he does, he must provide an answer to this question.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

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