It’s easy to bash officials in sports. Even though replay has demonstrated that officials are right more often than not, replays have also shown officials often are wrong.
During my 40-year officiating career, I didn’t have to deal with replays. At the small college and high school level, replays weren’t an option. I knew I missed some calls, but I couldn’t go back and look at it during the game. And frankly, I really didn’t care to review it on a game tape days after the fact because I couldn’t fix my mistake then. I might be able to learn from it, but I couldn’t fix it.
My point is: officials’ calls are scrutinized as much or more than ever with the ever expanding use of video replays.
The goal is to get the calls right. That has always been the goal. The question is, what price are we willing to pay to make sure all the calls are right? Are we satisfied to have games drag on and on because of the time it takes to review close calls?
Are we OK with calls that aren’t overturned after a lengthy review when the evidence isn’t conclusive?
Are we OK with lengthy reviews that interrupt or break the momentum of a particular team?
Are we OK with just reviewing specific questionable calls late in the game?
Recently, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was not pleased by the NBA’s acknowledgement of an uncalled Russell Westbrook travel with 17.2 seconds remaining in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 108-102 victory over the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
In an ESPN.com article, Kerr was asked whether it mattered to him that the NBA quickly admitted the travel should have been called. He sarcastically cheered, “Yes! Yes! Yes! That’s awesome,” as he pumped his fist.
He then reiterated his previous stance on the NBA’s policy of releasing a two-minute report on late-game officiating.
“I don’t like the practice,” Kerr said. “I appreciate the NBA trying to be transparent, but it’s unfair to the officials. I feel like it throws them under the bus. They have an impossible job. They really do. And there are going to be bad calls both ways, every game. They’re never going to be perfect. They’re doing the best they can. I don’t think there’s any point, personally, in exposing bad calls. It doesn’t serve a purpose to me.”
NBA senior vice president Joe Borgia told NBA TV, “It’s an unfortunate miss, but so much going on in the play, the speed of it, and officiating is about getting angles, and sometimes you just can’t get them, and they did not get a great angle on that play.”
Asked about the play, Kerr said, “I thought he walked, but it wasn’t called, so that’s the way it goes.”
While Kerr was likely upset at the time, deep down he has to know that the call wasn’t why the Warriors lost the game.
The truth is, as an official I never had a turnover, missed a shot or threw the ball away. I don’t say that to excuse any bad calls I made, but merely to point out there are many more things that players and coaches do to affect the outcome of a game.
When I officiated, we always emphasized trying to get the calls right in the last two minutes of a hotly contested game, not only because it is what we want to do, but because that’s what the players, coaches and fans will ultimately remember.
Fans often forget or overlook missed calls earlier in games. Of course, the real truth is that most fans never acknowledge that their team may have benefited from a bad call at any point in the game.
I realize that major college and professional sports have the wherewithal to use replay. I applaud the idea of wanting to get the calls right. Call me old fashioned, but I also appreciate watching small college and high school games without additional interruptions.