Ryan Craig

NCAA refs work too hard

Posted March 10, 2011

I once asked a friend of mine, that happens to be a basketball official at the highest level of his profession, about officiating the final minutes of a big game.

“Why is it that refs swallow their whistles at the end of games?” I inquired. “Because you all know you do.”

After we both had a good laugh about it, he gave an honest answer.

He said it’s not that officials choose not to call fouls that they see; it’s that they have to be surer they are seeing a foul before they call it.

A professional, he said, won’t simply ignore fouls, but they will become more conservative when it comes to whistling a player’s action that might fall into the dreaded grey area.

Unfortunately for the officials in Wednesday afternoon’s St. John’s vs. Rutgers game, the final 1.7 seconds of the contest had nothing to do with grey area.

It’s not the no-call on the likely blocking foul before the potential go-ahead layup for the Scarlet Knights or the unseen cross-body block thrown by the Johnnies on the game’s final inbounds play that is disappointing.

I can even live with the non-call of the technical foul for the Red Storm player throwing the ball into the stands while the game was still going on, although Rick Pitino and his male cheerleader friend might have an issue with it.

And traveling? That hasn’t been called consistently for years, so why should be expect that to change on a random Wednesday in March of 2011.

But sideline out of bounds is basic – it’s black and white, or in this case, blue and hardwood. There is no judgment needed or context to be considered.

Half of a player’s foot was out of bounds with almost two seconds left of Wednesday’s Big East second round game, and nobody with a striped shirt on seemed to notice.

We’re not talking about a toddler in a ballet slipper either - this was the biggest guy on a court full of big guys galloping out of bounds wearing a size 17.

It’s a small example of a much larger issue.

College officials simply call too many games.

This same official friend of mine talked about the six-city-in-seven-nights stints the zebras pull off on a regular basis and admitted that by the end of the binge the block/charge call is little more than a guess at best.

Even the most focused mind starts to wander after calling that many games in such a short amount of time.

You can’t blame the refs – if someone is going to pay them, and they are willing to put in the hours, why not make a few extra bucks on the side of whatever the ACC or SEC might be paying you?

It’s hard to blame a hard worker for working hard and that’s why you need to take the decision out of that person’s hands.

Put a maximum number on the amount of games an official can call in college basketball’s regular season and you won’t have burned out referees taking the final seconds of important tournament games off.

The officials absolutely botched the final 1.7 seconds of the Red Storm’s win over Rutgers Wednesday and there’s nothing that can be done to change that. At the very least, though, the NCAA can turn the situation into a positive.

Hopefully, college basketball’s governing body passes legislation to ensure that such egregious calls are far less likely to happen.

It’s about time the game’s officials had the whistle blown on them.

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