Officials often double as fashion police

One frustrating aspect of being a basketball official, or any official for that matter, is having to double as the fashion police and babysitters.

Rules specify that uniforms are to be worn properly. That sounds simple enough, right? Ah, no. Those seemingly simple rules can lead to confusion when discussing those concerns with a coach before the game.

One of many duties for an official during pre-game warmups is to make sure no players dunk the ball. Once, a high school coach asked me if we were going to start the game with a technical foul, because he claimed that a player had dunked the ball.

I asked my partner who was responsible for watching that team warm up, and he assured me that no player had dunked the ball.

The coach was livid and we almost started the game with a technical, but it would have been on the coach who nearly blew a gasket.

I’ve seen officials blow their whistle as they come up the steps from the dressing room at Tabor, which warned players from both teams that all dunking should cease.

Turning the page to another pregame responsibility, the rule book is clear that players are to be properly equipped and wear their uniforms according to the rules.

The high school rule book bluntly states that players may not roll the waistband of their uniform shorts and that apparel should be worn in the manner the manufacturer intended it to be worn. The rolling of the waistband is not as shorts were intended to be worn, even though it seems to be a current fad.

If a player chooses to wear an undershirt under a jersey, the undershirt must be the predominate color of the jersey. Also, an undershirt must have sleeves of equal length.

If compression shorts and tights are worn, all players must have the same color. All must match and be a solid color. Knee pads are considered a sleeve and must meet color requirements.

Furthermore, headbands go around the entire head and must be worn on the forehead or crown, be nonabrasive, unadorned and a maximum of 2 inches. The colors permitted for headbands and wristbands are white, black, beige or a school color. Head decorations like ribbons are prohibited. Headbands do not have a knot in them.

Ponytail holders are considered hair control devices and do not come under the restrictions of color, maximum size, logo restrictions and team uniformity. Hair control devices just go around hair—not the head.

So why is this a problem? Many coaches ignore the dress code and not all officials have taken it seriously.

In pre-game meetings, an official is supposed to ask each coach if his or her team is properly equipped and if team members are wearing their uniforms properly. Coaches typically nod yes, even though not all players are following the rules.

The coaches either don’t have a clue how their players are dressed or they prefer that the official be the “bad guy” and enforce the rule. When an official enforces the dress code, coaches look at the officials incredulously, as if amazed officials would stoop so low as to enforce the rules.

In a memo to officials from the Kansas State High School Activities Associa­tion: “Coaches have the primary responsibility to make sure players are properly equipped. Officials should not have to be the fashion police, coaches need to check their players before they get on the court to make sure there is no illegal equipment.”

When I officiated small-college basketball years ago, there was an emphasis on players wearing their shirts tucked in. One official I worked with got tired of a player not complying with the rule, so he blew his whistle, stopped the game and sent the player to his bench. He and the coach were informed he wouldn’t be allowed back on the court until his shirt was properly tucked in. You can’t make this stuff up.

A friend of mine recently told me he is addressing uniform challenges almost every night of high school officiating. I had to laugh. Better him than me. Any second thoughts I may have had about retiring from officiating two years ago were cured on the spot.

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein­sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Klein­sasser@wichita.edu.