College Basketball Officiating

It seems to me that complaints regarding the quality of college basketball officiating have increased considerably in the past few years. Nobody knows for sure if the officiating is worse today than it used to be, or if it is, why it has deteriorated to the point that it has.

Assuming that officiating has gotten worse in the past few years, it appears to me there are several possible explanations. One is the larger number of games the average fan views today compared to previous years. The more games a person sees the more bad calls are seen and the impression is given that bad calls are increasing when that may not be the case. The rate may be the same. I personally don't buy this theory.

The second explanation is that athletes today are better than they have ever been collectively speaking. They are stronger, quicker, faster and can jump higher which make the calls more difficult to make. The physical qualities of the officials have not improved at the same rate as the players and that presents some problems. When is the last time you saw a tall official, and where is a lot of the game played today? That's right-above the rim.

The third possible explanation is that elements have been introduced into the game that were not there previously, and they make officiating more difficult. An example of this is the practice of most point guards to "palm" the ball every time they touch it.  Another is bench behavior and non-verbal communications.  Twenty years ago no one had ever seen a "choking" sign given by a coach and today a "T" is so automatic that no sane coach would ever give the "choke" sign to an official unless he wanted it called.

I remember once in 1956 seeing the Alabama coach stand up from the bench and pull his pant legs half way up his shin to show his displeasure with what is commonly referred to as "home cooking".  His gesture clearly communicated his feeling that the officiating put him in "deep doo-doo".  Everyone in Woolen Gym got his message, but non-verbal communication was in its infancy then, and as a consequence the officials did nothing and looked like fools in the process.  You can bet your bottom dollar the officials discussed the incident after the game and were ready for it if it ever happened again.

My interest in officiating is not from a technical standpoint, but from what I would call a humanistic point of view.  I am more interested in what goes through the minds of the officials than I am whether the call was correct according to the rules. Having spent my entire career in Personnel Administration (Human Resources), I have dealt with most aspects of human behavior; so, my interest in the thought processes involved comes as no surprise.  I have been fortunate to locate a Division 1A official who has agreed to answer some questions regarding the humanistic side of officiating, and I will begin posting my questions and answers in my next story.

Part II

Question: Is there such a thing as a "make up" call or is it a myth?  If there is, have you ever in your experience heard it discussed among referees?

Answer: I have never heard the term "make up call" used by referees in any capacity.  Referees are conscious of how many fouls each players has, particularly the good ones, and they are also aware of how many fouls have been called against each team.  The officials want the best players in the game because it makes the game easier to call.  Officials don't want to put the best players on the bench with touch fouls.  Watch how hard it is for a players to get his 3rd and 4th fouls, especially the 3rd foul in the first half since that will in most cases result in the player being benched by the coach.  This, of course, applies to the 5th foul as well.  The 5th foul is really hard to get unless it is blatant, particularly in a close game.  Officials are aware of how many fouls they have called against each team and if one team has had 8 fouls called against them and the other only four, the officials are looking for fouls on the team with 4.  This is particularly true if the 8 fouls are on a visiting team who is being badly beaten.

Comment: I should have worded my question differently.  I should have known better than to use an inflammatory term like "make up call."  He says for us to watch the next 3 or 4 calls after a coach has been given a technical.  The calls will frequently be in favor of the coach who was called for the "T".  If this is true then one could argue that this us a form of "make up call".  The coaches must know what they are doing. I always thought they were trying to motivate their own team when they got an intentional "T".

Question:  Do officials enter a game planning to call a "close" or a "loose" game?

Answer:  There is never a conscious decision made to call a "tight" or a "loose" game.  In the pre-game meeting of officials there is a discussion of what they should looking for based on the styles of play employed by the teams involved.  For example, does a team try to draw a lot of charges, do they use a lot of back screens, etc.  The reason for this discussion is that it helps officials with their positioning once the game begins.   Officials must be on location for the pre-game meeting at least 1 hour and 30 minutes before tip off.

Question:  Are statistics maintained on the performance of officials in areas such as importance of game, hostile crowds, aggressive coaches, etc.?

Answer: I am not aware of statistical studies, but observers are present at every game and evaluations are made of the officials' performance by these observers.  These evaluations are discussed with the officials and on occasion, the Supervisor Officials will have the officials review tapes of games with him to review certain areas in question. In the ACC the Supervisor of Officials is Fred Barakat.

Comment:  I was surprised to learn of the observers being present at every game but now that I give it some thought, it makes a lot of sense. The role of the Supervisor is something I will have to give more thought to.   My friend told me of an instance where Mr. Barakat went into the dressing room at half time and chewed out the officials who had called a technical foul on an ACC Head Coach.  There is a time and place for everything and I hardly think this was the time to
express displeasure with the officiating job being done.

Question:  Why does it appear that officials are reluctant to call a "T" on coaches who stray out if the coaches' box when this would appear to be one of the simplest calls that could be made?  They are either in the box or are outside it.

Answer:  While being outside the box is against the rules, some discretion is exercised in enforcing the rule. If an official feels he might have missed a call, he might let the coach come out of the box to make his case. If the official feels he made the right call he might be less lenient.


**In part 3 I will finish with the question and answer session, and I will offer a few suggestions on how officiating might be improved.

Part III

When I began writing on college basketball officiating I thought it would be a snap to conduct an interview with an official and write two or three installments on the subject. Boy, was I wrong. What has happened is that the more I probe the subject the less clear it is to me what should be done to correct the situation. Since I have a couple of questions I asked the basketball official that were not included in part 2, I have decided to share the answers to those and spend the rest of my time talking with other individuals who are in a position to contribute to the subject. In the past few weeks I have talked with a former ACC Head Basketball Coach and I may decide to contact the ACC Offices in Greensboro to see if I can talk with someone there, preferably Mr. Fred Barakat, the Supervisor of ACC officials.

The two questions I referred to above are as follows

Question: Are coaches allowed to talk to officials before games to alert them to the fact that certain opposing players are habitually doing things that are illegal? For example, if a coach honestly felt that Wojo was guilty of tripping players on the opposing team, could he call that to the attention of the officials before the game?

Answer: Officials do not permit formal meetings with coaches but there are many ways a coach can make his point with the referees. Informal comments take place all the time on the sidelines and it is easy to "plant the seed" during one of these dead ball periods.

Comment: I recall reading somewhere that Coach Smith alerted the officials before the '94 game with Boston College about the illegal play of a Boston College player ( Abrams ) I have never been able to determine exactly how this was done. The official's answer does raise an interesting question, however, and that is, "should an official have ANY conversation with a coach without the opposing coach being present?" Officials should stand away from the coaches' boxes during dead balls and not respond to requests for conversations unless the other coach is present. Coach K seems to be the principal utilizer of this technique to "get into the head of the official" What makes this kind of rule next to impossible to enforce is that coaches will figure out a way to circumvent it. They will say they are only
asking for clarification but will make their points somehow in the course of the clarification. This is an example of how difficult it is to come up with meaningful suggestions for improvement.

Question: Do officials ever "go at each other" because of dislike, previous incidences, or situations in the game being called where an official feels another official has blown a call or is not calling the game fairly?

Answer: Absolutely not. Officials had better work together or they will not last long.  Evaluations and tape replays would expose this kind of thing immediately and the guilty parties would find themselves looking for work if they were not functioning well as teams.

So, that's it for now. I'm somewhat disappointed in my progress to date but maybe things will pick up now that I'm not watching so many games. Unless a Heel is playing I don't watch NBA games and officiating there is a whole 'nother story if anybody cares, and I don't.