More consistent officiating needed in college hoops

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

It’s not complicated: ‘Just call the game by the rules’

Consistency in men’s and women’s college basketball officiating during regular season and postseason play has long been a concern. Coaches of both men’s and women’s basketball agree that, like teams, officials can always use some improvement.

Unlike teams, officials don’t have any home-court advantage. Yet, both fans and coaches annually complain about the lack of consistent whistle-blowing by officials, which typically keeps their unpopular status intact game after game.

Coaches, however, get punished by way of technical fouls, expulsion from games, fines and censure if they complain too much.

“Everybody feels the same way and wants a little more consistency,” notes Minnesota Women’s Basketball Coach Pam Borton on officiating.

“I think fans and coaches always will complain about officiating. It’s never good enough.”

Improving officiating consistency was the primary reason the NCAA and the Collegiate Commissioners Association have created limited liability companies, and the two groups met for the first time in September.

Pacific-10 Senior Associate Commissioner Gloria Nevarez was elected chair of the women’s officiating board of managers, and Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton was elected the men’s board chair. Both will serve two-year terms.

Among the key objectives of the two committees are to expand the current pool of officials; remove “entry barriers” to those who are interested in becoming basketball officials; and more consistently apply playing rules, points of emphasis and mechanics.

U of M Men’s Basketball Coach Tubby Smith adds, “It’s nothing new — just call the games by the rules. Call the foul the first time if a guy is whacking me.

Some teams have the tendency to keep reaching at you, grabbing you, and slapping you in the face when you got the ball in the post.”

Both Gopher coaches briefly talked last week about beliefs and perceptions about officiating. Borton likes to see the same officiating from conference to conference, especially in non-conference contests.

“Some things are called on tighter than others,” she believes. “Some conferences let you play a little more than do others. Some conferences are more physical than others. I really think it depends on what conference those officials come from.”

Smith agrees with her: He too would like to see consistent officiating across the board, from coast to coast.

Both coaches do disagree with many fans’ belief that officiating is often tilted favorably toward one team over another. “The Big Ten [officiating] has been consistent for the most part,” not favoring one side or the other “but right in the middle,” says Borton, who is beginning her ninth season in the conference.

The Big Ten now has a new men’s officials chief this season, “and he’s making a lot of changes,” claims Smith, who’s in his fourth campaign.

More importantly, perhaps the biggest benefactors of consistent officiating are the players themselves, said Fullerton in an NCAA press release. He added that college basketball officiating should be similar to what was established for college football in 2007, where he has seen successes such as standardizing instant replay and addressing player safety.

Furthermore, consistent officiating all throughout the year definitely helps when postseason time comes around.

“The way we are called [for fouls] on certain things during the year are a lot different than what we are called on during the NCAA tournament,” says Borton.

“When you get into the tournament, you want a little more consistency [so] that it doesn’t become a different game than what you have been playing all year.”

Another concern is the number of games officials work weekly: Some work as many as five games in a given week. Fatigue might play a factor with an official who’s on the end of a long week. “Officials do a lot of games and might not be as sharp toward the end of the week, with all the travel they are doing as well,” says Borton.

Having full-time officials could be an improvement, but for that to happen, as Borton quickly points out, “The money has to be better. Given the state of the economy right now, I don’t think anybody in the country is there right now.”

Whether men’s or women’s hoops, “We all [coaches] would have the same complaints [about officiating]. The men’s game might get more experienced [officials] or pay more money, but I think there’s a lot of good officials in the women’s game as well,” Borton believes.

“Just as we need to improve as a team, officials need to improve as well,” concludes Smith.

Note: Black Coaches & Administrators (BCA) recently expanded its board of directors from four to six members. The new appointees are: University of Michigan professor and faculty athletic representative Dr. Percy Bates; University of Texas-Austin Head Women’s Track Coach Beverly Kearney; Colgate University Athletics Director David Roach; University of Buffalo Senior Associate AD Anucha Browne Sanders; Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas; and Kevin White, vice-president and athletics director at Duke University.

They join current BCA board members BCA President Dave Leitao; Memphis Associate Head Coach Danielle O’Banion, a former Gopher assistant; Central Florida Athletics Director and Executive Vice President Keith Tribble; and Notre Dame Associate Head Coach Carol Owens.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.