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It’s A Ref’s World

Last season, my boys team played a game against a weaker squad. They had all of one decent player and a short bench, with no experience, and I was geared up for a massacre.

Then, the referees walked in.

Now, these two refs, for whatever reason, don’t like me. It’s gotten to the point where they’ve been overheard saying that they would deliberately call the game so my team would lose.

The other team ran four feet out of bounds, with the ball – No call.

They two-handed shoved one of my players down – No call.

My players got hammered, dragged down, hit, Metta-World-Peaced under the basket – No call.

We lost by three.

So afterwards, after I’d calmed down enough to make words, I filed a complaint. The response: “I’ll be sure to forward this to the referee’s association so the pair in question can be warned.”

About the game? “The game is finished, the final score stands.”

Referees make mistakes. Point proven by the announcement from the NBA that there was an error at the end of the game between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Toronto Raptors, that Andrea Bargnani had indeed been fouled, and that he should have shot two free throws. The final score was 98-97 for the Bobcats, and needless to say, the Raptors Nation was incensed.

Honestly though, I’m really not here to rant about how terrible refs are, how they’re out to get (insert team name here). All I know is that there’s a problem, and I think we should all just talk it out.

I think it’s safe to say that sports fans and officials have a pretty messy relationship. At any level, referees are the black sheep of the athletic family. And it’s gotten serious: Look at cases of youth coaches being charged for assaulting officials after games. This is the culture that is being taught to young people, who are not only today’s fans, but tomorrow’s stars. Is this where we want organized sports to end up?

So, folks, it’s time to heal. Let’s pull up the therapists couch and go.

The first step here is to realize that referees are only human. They have eyes and ears like the rest of us. Much as we (and they) would love for them to have 360° x-ray vision, it just isn’t possible. They see what they see, and they make the call to the best of their abilities. Guaranteed, there is not one official who hasn’t had extensive training, especially at the elite levels.

Not only are they super-knowledgeable about the rules, but they look at the game differently. I sometimes ref scrimmages, and my own players get so annoyed because I miss a ton of calls. Why? I watch as a coach. There’s a huge difference, and honestly, watching as a referee is a lot less fun.

This isn’t to say that they don’t make mistakes. As I said above, they’re only human. They see what they see, and they do the best they can.

Another reason why the ref-hate gets to me is that, at the end of the day, a team’s abilities has nothing to do with the officiating. I coached a very rough game against a team of young women who were built like gorillas. My teeny little guards just couldn’t compete. They came off the court, ranting about the referees, but really, they were just outmatched. (We lost by about twenty points.)

Referees have nothing to do with the fact that your team has a defensive breakdown, or isn’t hitting their free-throws.

Now, when you have a game like the Raptors one point loss, or my own three point defeat, the officiating becomes quite a bit more significant. And that, in itself, is frustrating because, really, we don’t play so the officials can determine the outcome. If that’s what I wanted, I would have continued figure skating. (Not that I’m knocking figure skating, but truly, apples and oranges.)

So referees, in spit of their best efforts, do make mistakes. And what are we supposed to do about that? Obviously, the NBA is keeping an eye on the situation, but it’s a little late now. They can’t very well bring both teams back to play an extra 20 seconds, now can they?

They already allow for replays; should there be a fourth official watching the cameras? I know it may seem a little extravagant, but rather than having an announcement the next day, it could make a difference when it counts.

Although that kind of proposal comes with its own flaws: Do they have the power to make an independent call, or simply review the ones already made? Is it at the coach’s, or the referee’s, discretion whether to turn to this fourth official? How much authority would they have? It would be an added expense, and I honestly don’t see it as being feasible. It becomes an issue of limits, like getting a toad to catch a fly, and a cat to catch the toad, and a bear to catch the cat.

Much the same as my ranting about flopping and fouling from last season, I don’t have an answer, only an opinion. Referee mistakes, innocently made, cheapens the effort put out by the athletes, and leaves a bitter taste for fans. There needs to be a productive way to deal with them as they happen, rather than a belated-mea culpa.

How about a rock-paper-scissors for the win?

An end-note: Back to my boys game from the start, we ended up facing that team again in playoffs, and won by 21 points. I think that says enough about the officiating problem.

For those of you who believe that the officiating is fixed anyways, feel free to bring on your comments below.

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