EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.-- Two college basketball officials were treated and released at St. Joseph's Hospital Friday night, while a third remained in serious condition, following an NCAA Tournament game at Continental Airlines Arena.
The three were rushed to the hospital after, coincidentally, all three swallowed their whistles in the final seconds of Georgetown's thrilling 66-65 victory over Vanderbilt. Doctors were able to extract the whistles from two of the three. But a hospital spokesperson said the whistle might have to be surgically removed from the third.
"It's certainly quite a coincidence that all three managed to swallow their whistles at approximately the same point during the game," said the spokesperson. "From all accounts, the officials had had no difficulties using their whistles up to that point."
Georgetown's Jeff Green sank a bank shot with 2.5 seconds left to give the Hoyas the win.
A doctor who refused to give his name said he had seen the syndrome before, especially when much is at stake in late-season college basketball games.
"We call it Whistle Ingestion Syndrome, or WIS," the doctor said. "It's a wonder more basketball officials don't asphyxiate themselves from it."
Specialists who have studied the syndrome have been baffled by it and have thus far been unable to pinpoint the cause.
"I don't know, maybe it's a reflex action," said Dr. Paul Thorax, a specialist with the National Center for Hoops-Related Respiratory Illnesses (NCHRRI). "These games get so exciting sometimes, maybe these officials just hyperventilate and end up inhaling too hard.
"Whatever the cause, it's a syndrome that perhaps we should take up with the NCAA."
Another NCHRRI specialist added that officials were statistically most vulnerable to the syndrome when officiating games in which a lower-seeded team was close to pulling off an upset of a team from a major media market.