The Big Blue Nation watched the Music City Bowl as Kentucky Wildcat, and SEC leading rusher, Benny Snell was ejected for the game for contacting a game official. We were all stunned when the official’s postgame statement counteracted what we all saw, from multiple angles, in the video. When the Pac-12 conference, the conference of the bowl game officials, doubled-down and supported the official’s account, despite video evidence to the contrary, we all just shook our heads. Not shaking in disbelief, but shaking our heads as to what officiating has become.
To me, the one lone bright spot in the Benny Snell situation was that the head referee actually took questions after the game. So often, the officials across all sports and at all levels, escape the accountability that everyone else is held to. Every coach is second and third guessed in post-game press conferences. Athletes are made to go over, in excruciating detail, every mistake they make on the playing field. Athletic Directors at the college level and General Managers at the professional level are made accountable when teams and/or coaches under-peform; owners and school presidents often deal with the same. But officials? Rarely.
Look, officiating is hard. World-class athletes are moving at world-class speeds and I can understand and appreciate the difficulty in watching, recognizing and processing game action in real time. I don’t think anyone can say that every official will get every call right all the time. That’s not the standard that anyone is asking for. All most coaches, players, and fans ask for is consistency, professionalism and mutual respect. And what we’ve seen too much of is officials providing none of those things.
In just the last week, there was Chris Coyte, the referee at the aforementioned Music City Bowl, his conduct so egregious that Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart felt compelled to comment. There was “TV” Teddy Valentine literally and exaggeratedly turning his back on UNC’s Joel Berry. Official John Higgins, who caught the BBN’s ire after the loss to UNC in the 2017 Elite Eight, issued Texas head coach Shaka Smart a technical and then followed Smart, escalating the issue and seemingly trying to bait Smart into another technical foul. Where’s the professionalism? Where’s the respect? Where’s the consistency?
When it comes to NCAA officials , there are some fixes that can be and should be addressed. First, the NCAA needs to take over all officiating, moving away from the conference/independent contractor model that we currently have. Right now, a basketball official can call as many games as he wants each week, fatigue (especially mentally) be damned. Secondly, there must be an accountability system setup. I don’t think anyone wants to go back and forth on each and every foul or violation, but if you eject a player or coach, you should have to at least provide some sort of explanation. Lastly, if an official makes a mistake or acts unprofessionally, there must be consequences. Besides some furor on social media, what happened to Higgins or Valentine? Nothing.
Seth Greenberg of ESPN spent Thursday morning on Twitter defending Teddy Valentine, speaking to how much respect coaches have for him because he calls a fair game. That may very well be the case, but the fact that his on court action has earned him the nickname “TV Teddy” should be concerning to whoever is overseeing him. At times, his demeanor is like Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun. The thing is, no one pays money to see the officials and when you have Valentine and Higgins (and others) interjecting themselves into the games, it’s not fair to the coaches or the players.
Be fair. Be consistent. Be a professional. Be respectful. Officiating is hard, but if we can get more officials following those basic rules coaches, players and fans might look past a missed call or two*.
*Definitely not three.