Satellite Sports Network Words

Did The "Timer On" Sink Navy?

by Paul Woody 24 Seven Lax


Much has been written by the local Maryland and Washington media regarding the controversial finish to the Navy-Georgetown men’s lacrosse game that was played on February 15th at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Most of the information in the press regarding the controversy pertains to the silent shot clock or “Timer On” call as it is officially known. The analysis seems quite concise and accurate. On the surface, the facts stated seem to confirm that an error was made by the officiating crew and that Georgetown’s game winning goal came after the shot clock had expired.

We decided to dig into this further since we love a good controversy. Despite my disdain for reading over lengthy text, we dove into the rules and then we managed to find the video footage from the game in question.

Let’s start with the givens, in case you are not familiar with this story.

Jeff Fountain’s goal at the 2:08 mark of the first overtime gave Georgetown a thrilling 9-8 win over the host Midshipmen. At the 2:42 mark (34 seconds earlier), an official gave the “Timer On” signal, which signifies that the offensive team (Georgetown) now has 30 seconds to get a shot on goal, or lose possession.

Wait, if that’s the case, Georgetown should have lost possession at 2:12, right?

Muddying the controversy is the fact that Georgetown attackman, Pete Conley, fired a shot wide at the 2:16 mark that went out of bounds, stopping the clock at 2:14. Conley’s shot did not strike the goal, or goalkeeper before going out. Therefore, by rule, the shot clock continues to count down upon restarting play and the Hoyas should have had only :02 to to get a shot off once the whistle blew. Again, Jeff Fountain scored at 2:08, approximately 6 seconds after the ball went out of bounds.

After reading the stories in the local newspapers, the officials call didn’t make any sense to me. Why did that goal count? Was it poor officiating, as both stories seemed to imply?

I checked the rule books and here’s the official rule regarding the Timer On call.

6-11: “b. Officiating Mechanics.

1. Trail official signals stall warning, verbalizes “Timer on!” and starts the 20-second timer.

2. At the end of the 20-second timer, a 10-second hand count is administered by the trail official when the timer expires. The official shall announce “ten seconds” as an audible warning. This official has responsibility for the count until a shot is taken or the time expires.

Fueling the controversy were the announcers who called the game just as I described, using simple math to count down the :30 “Timer On” by monitoring the game clock. You can check out the entire game and sequence in question below. Skip to the final 3 minutes of the game to get the full sense of the play in question (about 1:56:45 in the video). If the embedded video doesn’t load, click here.


After a few lengthy discussions among the 24 Seven Lax staff and several reviews of the Zapruder Film game footage, we discovered the very essence of all of the confusion. The single factor that no one at the Washington Post or Maryland Gazette considered was when the so called “invisible shot clock” was actually triggered.


You see, the Trail Official is responsible for the “Timer On” counts, but he isn’t the official that actually signals the initial stall warning call, that is the head ref. Once all three officials have their hands raised in the “Timer On” position, the Trail Official activates an electronic timer. So, whatever time you see on the game clock when the first official makes his “Timer On” call, may not be the precise time the countdown begins. There is usually a slight delay, a few seconds max, between the initial call and the timer being activated. The trail official can’t possibly give the proper timer on signal with one arm in the air and one to his side and simultaneously activate his timer.

The timer will electronically count down from :20, and emit a loud buzz (all officials wear these timers strapped to their belts or shorts) when the :20 has expired. When the Trail Official’s buzzer goes off (after 20 seconds), he then issues an audible warning 10 second warning and begins a visual arm count (or a swing), counting down from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. If the offense fails to take a shot that either hits the goalie or pipe, a turnover is awarded. The Trail Official has the responsibility for the verbal count until a shot is taken on goal or the time expires.

At the moment the buzzer sounds, the final :10 of the “Timer On” call, is being counted by an official. Not an electronic timer, not the scoreboard clock, not a stop watch. He is simply counting out loud while motioning with his arms. He is also still engaged in the action on the field, and he is still officiating. Whether the shot clock has been violated or not, it is his call to make, not the announcers, not the fans and not the scoreboard clock.

But why should that matter? Counting is counting? 10 seconds is 10 seconds?

No, not really. Go grab a stop watch or something that electronically keeps time. Grab 3 or 4 friends or co-workers. Start a 10 second countdown on your device and have your friends countdown along, out loud. Track how many seconds on the clock it takes for them to count to zero from 10. You will be surprised with your results. I certainly was. My family members averaged between :11 and :12 seconds to count down from 10. My son took :19 seconds. He’s a work in progress.

So what this boils down to is anything but an exact science. Oh, we would like it to be, but it just isn’t. Unless the NCAA decides to install large electronic shot clocks on every NCAA lacrosse field, human nature will continue to be a factor in these calls and these calls will be subject to human critique and interpretation, fair or unfair.

But that’s a debate for another time.


At 2:42 of the video, the timer on signal is given by all officials and noted by the commentators. At 2:39, the trail official reaches for his belt to activate the 20 second timer. This would be when the timer on truly started. About 20 seconds later, the official at GLE on the near side reaches for his belt, presumably to kill his own buzzer. The time on the clock is approximately 2:18. Enter the human 10 second clock. At this point, the trail official is counting using hand signals. When the shot goes out of bounds, the clock is showing 2:14. The trail official’s count if he is a robot should be exactly 5ish seconds if he started his buzzer at 2:39. The announcers indicate that he showed 2 seconds left on the timer on, but they are likely mistaken. Two fingers held to the side indicates 7 seconds remaining, not two. It’s unlikely that they could hear the audible count. When the ball restarted, did the official start at 7, 6.5, or 6 seconds? Ridiculous, I know. The clock shows 2:08 when the ball is in the net. I’d say do the math, but as we’ve already discussed, it’s not as simple as that.

Fun fact, while it appears at first blush that Georgetown was afforded more than 30 seconds, it is possible for a team to lose possession by not generating a shot on goal with less than 30 seconds remaining on the game clock. That’s right, if the offensive team calls timeout, the 20 second count does not stop and coming out of the time out they will start with 10 second hand count, or 9.5 seconds, or 11.5 seconds, etc. depending on who is counting.