When the Riverdale High School and Smyrna High School (Tenn.) girls basketball teams met in the District 7-AAA consolation game Saturday night, facing them were a perverse set of incentives. The winner would be on track to face national power Blackman in the semifinals of the Region 4-AAA playoffs, while the loser wouldn't meet Blackman until the finals (assuming they made it that far).
Crucially, two and only two teams from the region advance to the state sectionals. If they assumed they would lose to Blackman—both teams already had once this season—the only way to advance to the state sectionals was to lose in the consolation game and be placed on the opposite side of the bracket as Blackman. So, both teams intentionally tried to lose. Via The Daily News Journal:
In the report, the referee noted that Riverdale "missed 12-16 free throws intentionally." And that Smyrna "wouldn't get the ball across the half-court line to get a 10-second count or to make us call an over and back violation intentionally."
The referee said "one time a Riverdale girl looked at one of the officials and gave the official a 3-second signal wanting him to call three seconds on her. Smyrna stood in the lane as well to have us call three seconds on them."
The referee wrote that he finally called the coaches together for a meeting after "a Smyrna player was about to attempt a shot at the wrong basket (but there was a 10-second violation call before they attempted the shot) on purpose.
"That was when I called both coaches together and told them we are not going to make a travesty or mockery of the game. WE ARE NOT GOING TO START TRYING TO SHOOT AND SCORE FOR THE OTHER TEAM."
Smyrna "won" the game 55-29, after ripping off a 25-4 run in the final four minutes. A school administrator approached Smyrna coach Shawn Middleton when his team up only 30-25, and asked why the starters weren't in. When the administrator didn't receive a satisfactory answer they told Middleton "you need to play to win the ball game and stop this." Middleton put his starters back in, and Smyrna ran away with the game.
Riverdale's "victory" (by losing) was short lived, as the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association kicked both teams out of the postseason today. The principals from both schools attempted to argue that only the coaches should be in trouble, but the TSSAA cited players intentionally missing shots, causing backcourt violations, and asking for three seconds called on themselves as evidence that they weren't mere pawns in their respective coach's scheme. Both schools were put on probation through next school year as well, and were fined $1,500.
"The bottom line is as a coach you make decisions in the heat of the game," [Middleton] said. "No way would I do it again."
UPDATE: Here are videos of an intentional backcourt violation and purposefully missed free throws.
Photo via Shutterstock; h/t Zachary