With much fanfare, the NCAA communicated during the offseason that there would be points of emphasis for how the men’s basketball games would be officiated. The two main points were: 1) limiting anything that would restrict an offensive player’s freedom of movement and 2) cleaning up the always confusing idea on what constitutes a block and what constitutes a an offensive charge. Proponents of the changes wanted to free up offenses as the scoring has been on a downward trend in men’s basketball for awhile. Opponents of the changes warned that the changes in how tightly fouls would be called would result in more fouls and more free throws, slowing down the game. Whatever side of the fence people were on, it was obvious that the biggest obstacles to any rule change rest with one group of people: the men’s basketball game officials.
I have officiated basketball before, not at the college or even high school level, so I appreciate the tough job that the officials have. Basketball is continuous, up and down action. The court is smaller and the players are moving faster and faster and trying to discern what exactly your eyes have just witnessed is a very difficult task. The officials are going to make mistakes. Errors are going to occur, even with three officials on the court. No rational person can demand perfection from the officials. But, the way the game is administrated needs to improve. What started out as points of emphasis in November have now become afterthoughts in February, heading into March.
Here are a few actions that game officials and the NCAA could take to make the game better:
1. Speak to the media. As I said, no one is expecting the officials to be perfect. What would be nice is if the lead official of the crew would speak to the media after games. People might still disagree with the call or the interpretation of the rule, but at least getting some insight on the official’s thought process might make them seem more human and that they’re not out to “get” one team or another. This would be particularly effective for technical foul calls and ejections.
2. Call in their own zones. At any given time, the three officials on the court each have an area of responsibility, from the lead official under the basket to the trail official that stays near the halfcourt line. As the offensive team passes and moves the ball around the frontcourt, the officials should move and shift so that each one maintains a clear line of sight for his zone. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing an official from 30 feet away make a call, overriding an official standing with arm’s reach of a play. It’s frustrating and it’s bad form.
3. Be consistent. This has to be one of the biggest gripes among coaches, players and fans. If Player X commits the same act as Player Y, then the call or the non-call should be the same for both violations. As brutal as the first Kentucky vs. Arkansas game was, the horrible calls were pretty evenly distributed both ways. I’m also against officials “swallowing their whistles” late in the game. A foul at 2-2 a minute into the first half should be a foul with the game tied and seconds remaining in the game. Be fair and be consistent.
4. Be Humble. “TV” Teddy Valentine. Tony Greene. Doug Shows. In no way should these officials be household names, but they are. Fans know them and they know what to expect from those officials. For some reason, these officials, and others, are under the impression that fans pay money and tune in to see them blow their whistle and make their over the top gestures. And nothing could be further from the truth. Watching one of these “look at me” officials wind up and sell a call, particularly for the home team, makes one long for the days of Enrico Pallazzo.
5. The NCAA needs to be in charge of officials. As the system is currently set up, each official is an independent contractor. He can travel as much as he wants and do as many games a week as he can fit into his schedule. So we’ve got 18-21 year old players that play twice a week and middle aged referees that are calling 6-7 games per week. Putting the NCAA in charge of all the officials will limit the number of games the officials can work per week and bring some much needed uniformity to all of college basketball, not just when the NCAA Tournament comes around.
There’s too much at stake for the officiating of men’s college basketball to continue being an issue. The NCAA needs to be proactive and get the problem fixed. Otherwise, there’s going to be more frustration from everyone that loves college basketball and that would be definite violation.