Officiating basketball is virtually synonymous with controversy. In fact, with the growth of new and improved technology for taping games and the explosion of social media, mistakes and perceived mistakes are there for everyone to see.
In reality, there’s no proof that officiating is worse today than in the past, but you’d never know it from the reaction of fans and some coaches.
There are a plethora of reasons why officiating is actually better now than it was 30-40 years ago, but my ability to convince the average fan of that fact is about as likely as my ability to convince you that it will snow in Marion County in July.
Basketball has always been difficult to officiate. No matter what the rulebook states, the game requires officials to use good judgment in interpreting and enforcing the rules at a time in which athletes are collectively bigger, faster and stronger than ever before.
After 39 years of officiating high school and small college basketball, I can tell you that good judgment is an elusive target. The better the players play, the better the officiating. When players don’t play well, officials don’t officiate as well.
On occasion, I’ve told coaches before a game that, “I hope you don’t question my judgment tonight. Because if I had good judgment would I be here doing this?”
That usually brings a smile or laugh from the coaches, but they still question my judgment.
One trend I’ve recently observed is that more officials are being publicly reprimanded. I’m not sure exactly why, except that conference commissioners must feel like they need to do something to pacify unhappy fans.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to the scrutiny and review of how officials perform. I’m just not convinced that a public reprimand helps the cause.
When a college official is reprimanded, it may cost him or her some games later that season or the next season, but only those involved know for sure.
A disputed or bad call late in a close game is what angers fans and coaches. Trust me, it’s also an official’s worst nightmare.
Of course, that same bad call is long since forgotten if it happens in the first half or during a blowout. Timing is everything.
Basketball officials are under a microscope. Did you know that you can go to a website that shows referee statistics?
The website informs you which Division I basketball officials call the most fouls per game, fewest fouls per game, largest home margin, most technical fouls, most close games called, most blowout games called, most top 25 games called, most top 25 upsets called, most overtime games called, most NCAA tournament games called and more.
If you thought that giving officials the ability to review action on a monitor at courtside would help, you’re right, but even that’s debatable. Even with video review, fans don’t necessarily agree with the outcome. In addition, going to the monitor adds fuel to the fire.
At the NCAA Div. 1 level, officials can review 3-point shots, timing errors, situations with elbow contact and any fights.
An officiating friend of mine, who also happens to run the clock at Wichita State University basketball games, saw a game on TV one night in which the officials reviewed the clock every time it stopped in the last minute.
On the other hand, he noted that officials generally don’t review elapsed time during the first half or early in the second half to adjust tenths of a second—only if the error involves several seconds.
The extra time spent looking at monitors undoubtedly corrects some timing errors, but given the amount of time spent fixing the problem, another problem has been created by significantly interrupting the flow of the game.
After officiating a five-overtime high school game this season, a supervisor of officials came to our locker room and said, “You guys (three officials) made far fewer mistakes than either team.”
In my experience, officials generally aren’t as good as they think they are or as bad as coaches and fans think they are. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
The question is, why can’t we accept the fact that officials, players and coaches are all human?