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:
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.