Cameron Mills Radio – April 11, 2015 – Hour 2
April 11, 2015
April 13, 2015
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The State of Officiating

For the past few years, there have been increasing grumblings from the fans regarding the quality of officiating in the NCAA, specifically basketball.   Sure, it’s easy to see bad calls when they go against your team.  But even when watching games where there is no emotional attachment to either team, it’s obvious officials just aren’t as accurate or consistent as they used to be.   After the 2015 Final Four, I think everyone in the nation,  other than the Duke fans were in agreement:  college officiating is broken and it needs to be fixed ASAP.

Naturally, to fix something, one must first determine the source of the problem.   In the case of NCAA officials, the problem seems to be a combination of a number of factors.  Over the past 10 years or so, the game has been allowed to become much more physical.  Hand checks, pushes and holds are routinely ignored, and flops are regularly rewarded.  Referees have been given the additional tool of having video reviews available in certain circumstances, and yet still manage to make incorrect calls.   If an official is good at his job, applies the rules correctly and fairly, odds are you’ll never remember his name.   But I bet you are more than familiar with most, if not all of these names:  Pat Adams, Karl Hess, Doug Shows, Teddy “TV” Valentine, Jim Burr, John Higgins and Mike Eades.  I’m also willing to bet you probably have less than favorable impressions of their officiating capabilities, and with good reason, too.   Let’s be honest — there is no scenario in which a referee’s name should be trending nationally on Twitter during a game he is officiating.  (Yes, that has happened with Doug Shows).

Not coincidentally, much has been made about the decline of college basketball in the past ten years or so.   Because scoring continues to trend downward, many ideas are being tossed out on how to fix the game:  shorter shot clock, wider lane, moving the charge arc further from the basket and extending the 3-point line, in short, making the rules much more in line with international and/or NBA rules.  After all, the scoring is much higher there, so the rule changes should fix what’s wrong with basketball, right?  But while all those suggestions each contain some merit, college basketball will never be repaired if the officiating isn’t fixed first.

So what is the solution?   Well, this is a complex situation and no single action will cure the problem.  However, there are several steps that should be taken immediately:

  • Make the officials accountable.  As it stands now, as soon as a game ends, the officials quietly go on their way, answering to no one about any of the questionable calls that may have occurred during the game.   While I’m not suggesting a full-blown press conference for the refs, at the very least they should have to meet with conference representatives and answer any questions they may have about calls that appeared to have been incorrect or confusing.   While I understand the concept of good sportsmanship and respecting officials, it seems to be a bit over the top that a number of conferences levy hefty fines to any coaches who have the audacity to question officials in the media.  It’s a nice idea, but with competency and consistency continuing to decrease, it’s ridiculous to assume the officials are above reproach.  Knowing they would have to explain their actions may inspire them to be more diligent in the execution of their duties.
  • Mix it up.  Forget familiarity with conferences or officiating crews.  Having officials that are calling games only for one or two conferences has resulted in a wide variance in how rules are enforced from one league to the next.  This makes it nearly impossible to predict how games will be called in the NCAA tournament.  It’s amazing how everyone is supposed to be using the same rule book, but the types of fouls called are so vastly different between the SEC and the Pac 12, or the ACC and the Big XII.
  • Eliminate the “rule of emphasis.”  We’ve seen how well this concept works, especially with the emphasis placed on the hand-check rule a couple of seasons ago.  At the beginning of the year, every single hand check was called and teams made adjustments accordingly.  But, as with every other rule of emphasis, once conference play began, hand check calls became inconsistent, even being ignored entirely by some crews.  Here’s a thought:  why not emphasize all of the rules?  Isn’t that the ultimate goal?
  • Refine the criteria for reviewable calls.   While it would be impossible to review all calls, it seems a bit ridiculous that you cannot review a potential shot clock violation until the final 2 minutes of a game. If you can review whether a player was behind the 3-point line, could you not also review whether a player has established in-bounds position before touching the ball (and scoring)?   Further, show television viewers the same footage being shown to officials, thus eliminating the question of what they saw.
  • Call fouls.  Call all of them.  I can hear you now — the last thing we need is more whistles blown!  But let’s examine this a little further.  If all legitimate fouls were called, the game instantly becomes less physical and infinitely more aesthetically pleasing to watch.   We could once again see players rely on skill and execution instead of brute force.
  • Eliminate gambling on all college games.  Period.  If you don’t want conspiracy theories discussed about referees possibly being “paid off by Vegas,”  then eliminate Vegas from the equation.  Simple enough.

I want to be clear that I’ve never expected, nor asked for perfection from officials.  The game moves quickly and calls will be missed.  But what I do expect, and what we should all expect is consistency and fairness.  What qualifies as a foul on one end of the court very often is not viewed the same on the other end.  There are also a handful of teams that get a disproportionate amount of favorable calls.  Why is it when Coach K “works the refs,” a swift and noticeable change is made in the number of calls made in Duke’s favor?  Conversely, when Coach Cal does the same, why is Kentucky suddenly on the receiving end of every bad call?  Why was Billy Donovan allowed to use an entire timeout to complain to officials,  yet when Cal yelled one thing during play, the Kentucky bench was given a warning?

I realize that all the issues cannot be corrected overnight.  I also know  that failure to address these issues fixes nothing and only exacerbates the situation.   No game, most especially one with such high stakes as a Final Four matchup should end with fans wondering what might have been had officiating been better.   I’m not suggesting the results would have been any different in the end, but there is no doubt that blown calls definitely impacted the flow of games.   After all, the games should be about the players and the coaches, not the competency of the officials.



Michele Brown
Michele Brown
Writer at since Feb. 2015 Co-host of Big Blue Views podcast. Mom, Christian, sports junkie, golf addict and speed typist. I can cook your mama's food better than she can.


  1. Letha says:

    Have four Refs instead of three, two on each side where they can see the plays better and they need to be trained better. Maybe eight eyes instead of six will help, go to half court then back! Just a thought!

    • Michele Brown says:

      I think if they had any accountability and had measures in place for officials who displayed a pattern of “missing” calls (i.e. not allowed to referee a certain number of games, fined, etc), they would all experience an immediate and noticeable improvement in vision.

  2. chris says:

    You will never convince me that the two calls you said needed to be reviewed were actually missed. I saw them and can not believe 3 referees (supposedly some of the best) on the floor missed those calls.

    • Michele Brown says:

      I tend to agree with you, but review been an option for either of those plays, at least the refs’ miss would have been officially exposed.

  3. Dan says:

    And can we get back to the travelling call being 2 steps? The jump stop is inconsistently called and becomes more of a hop-and-skip of 4 or 5 steps. Guards ROUTINELY take 3-6 steps outside the 3-point arc as they receive a pass, come to a stop, and then pivot around for the next play. Finally, have the guts to overrule another official. If you’ve got a better angle and you actually saw (or didn’t see) something that the other ref did/didn’t, CALL IT!! (such as the goaltending call for UCLA that shouldn’t have been, based on 2 other refs’ angles showing the ball would never have hit the rim, much less have a chance at going in). Rant over. Thanks for this article, Cameron.

    • Michele Brown says:

      Yes, I didn’t even touch on the ever-changing traveling call. I am also frustrated constantly by the official furthest away from a play making the call, and when it’s’ wrong, those closest to where the infraction occurred say nothing.

  4. Barbara Cochran says:

    I agree there need to be some major changes. Kentucky did not have a chance in the final 4 game with Wisconsin. Not because they didn’t play well and Wisconsin did. The refereeing was horrid. Fouls called on the wrong team. Shot clock violations. Wisconsin falling over Kentucky players not being called for a foul. But within the next 2 minutes Kentucky obtained more fouls. And at the end of the UK/WIS game Ky. just let Wisconsin drive to the basket. If they had not, they would have gotten the points anyway off fouls that would have been called against KY.

    What can we say about Coach K? He has been around a long time and knows how to work the refs. But so has Coach Cal. And a lot of other coaches we haven’t mentioned here today. I am a die hard sports fan and just wish things could be fair. It would make the games much more enjoyable for the players and the spectators.

    • Michele Brown says:

      That’s my #1 wish — just call it the same way for BOTH teams. Consistency is a must, and without it, there will always be those questioning the motivation behind the bad calls, especially when there is an opportunity to correct it via video review.

  5. SARAH says:

    Or just buy them some glasses! Betting on the games I think is the major problem in sports today esp. Vagus they cant and wont loose large amts. of money so in comes the refs.

  6. Wayne says:

    Put all officials under the NCAA, and 1 don’t. let them work every night. And 2 pay them all the same.

  7. Donna Swan says:

    Let’s not forget the women’s game. Dee Kantner and several other officials have made horrendous calls that have decided games unfairly. They all need to be re-trained, and statistics on the games they call should be reviewed thoroughly by an impartial board.

    • Michele Brown says:

      I agree completely that the problem is not limited to men’s basketball. The women’s game has been suffering from this decline in officiating accuracy. Football has also had its share of issues in recent years. Training and “scoring” of each official should absolutely be in place and if an official cannot maintain a minimum score, they should have to go through training again before allowed to officiate a game. Certainly the NCAA has enough money from all their TV contracts to finance such a venture.

  8. Bo Ryan says:

    I agree. I am curious how Trey Lyles avoided a flagrant 1 or 2 myself???
    Maybe if UK played more than ONE true road game against a decent team then the reality of calls not going their way wouldn’t seem as such a shock. (I konw you are thinking Arkansas, but really?) Mills m you were a whiner when you pkayed. I thought you would have grown up by now. It appears you are chocking on some of that Cal-Aid.

    • Michele Brown says:

      Three points:
      1. Cameron did not write this article. I did.
      2. I use my real name to express my opinions rather than hiding behind a fake name.
      3. This was not about UK specifically. This was about officiating in general.

  9. Bo Ryan says:

    I apologize, I should have paid better attention & noticed you had penned this. I love how you say this was not about UK, but officiating in general. If you actually READ your own masterpiece you’ll notice the normal Wildcat Whine of poor Cal and coack K gets preferred treatment. Get over it & be happy that Cal is at least one of the greatest recruiters of all time, possibly one of the best salespeople as well. If you truly know basketball then you would know that Coach K is the greatest college coach of our time. (Our time does not go back to the Wizard of Westwood’s era) I’m not a Duke fan but I do give credit where it is due. You might wwant to stick to material you know.
    Hugs & kisses,

  10. Bob says:


    I admire and share your fanaticism, specifically, for our University’s football and basketball program(s). Unforgettably, the highest fortune of college athletic’s fandom was afforded classmates and me during undergraduate years, ’95 – ’00 at UK. I’m sure you reveled in those special milestones and probably more.

    However, what I do not share are the irrational expectations, illogical suggestions to facets of the game that need “fixen,” opinions disguised as facts sans references, “solutions” that contradict the previous bright idea proposed, etc etc etc.

    The only way to eliminate incorrect calls is to remove the human element. Correct. Eliminate human referees and somehow officiate games through technology. Thereby, changing the game of Basketball into some game that has yet to be invented. Without whistleblowers, we could pump the Price Is Right loser horn through Bertha when the computer indicates play needs to be halted and save her from getting tossed in the trash. Or she could become the largest grenade whistle ever. Thankfully, our ideas evolve as a species, and refs are now able to, in fact, go to the monitor In an effort get the call correct.
    A couple thoughts….
    Passion often is built in layers…over time… typically with care, love, heart break and pain burried somewhere in those layers too…..or maybe the heartbreak lays on top…still fresh…reeking of Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and all things Indiana. As the passionate fan I perceive you to be, I believe it should be recognizable that the passion has been built not only by great teams, banners, and great players, awful coach(es), and crappy free throw shooters, but also from great officiating calls, phantom fouls in our favor, no-calls, counted-buckets on expired clocks…so many variables make up the reasons for our own fanaticism and passion for sport. Now, along with the layers of Mike Stuart and John Clougharty, Sirmons becomes part of the passion…a foul-smelling part, but a part nonetheless. My 2 cents seems to have turned into a dime’s worth. Thank you for your time, and your patience with the grammatical errors, and thank you for your passion. Please Michelle, don’t get the referees replaced with robots and a grenade whistle. GoBigBlue

  11. Bob, thanks for the time you spent writing a thoughtful response. If you reread the next to last paragraph, you will see that I never suggested replacing referees with robots. What I said, and still stand behind 100% is that all games should be called consistently on both ends of the floor. Even if a ref has a wrong interpretation of what constitutes a foul, make sure you call that wrong interpretation for both teams the entire game. I do not think asking for that is irrational. I never said eliminate all incorrect calls, but there is no question that improvement is needed, not only in college basketball, but football as well. If they are not going to enforce the rules as they are written, then why have rules in the first place?

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