Kentucky Basketball: Is It A Problem If A Louisville Grad Officiates A Kentucky Game?

Kevin C. Cox

The quick answer might be, "only if Kentucky loses," but this is a situation Kentucky has faced twice this season.

Many of you have probably heard that one of the officials from the Arkansas game, James Breeding, is a graduate of Kentucky's arch-rival, the University of Louisville. Matt Jones dug into that matter a little bit and came up with this post the today. He linked to a 2009 Business First profile of Breeding which says, in relevant part:

No U of L, UK games

After a decade of officiating at the college level, Breeding already is established in his profession.

He worked three consecutive years in the National Invitation Tournament before last year’s debut at the Big East and NCAA tournaments. He’ll work all three again this year.

This season, Breeding has worked 52 regular-season games: an average of three per week. Many were nationally televised, although none involved U of L or the University of Kentucky.

Breeding earned a bachelor’s degree in sport administration from U of L in 1998, and the Big East, where the Cardinals play, doesn’t allow him to work any U of L games.

Similarly, the SEC, where UK plays, doesn’t schedule Breeding to officiate Wildcat games because of his in-state ties.

Being the curious guy I am, I went over to Statsheet.com, which keeps profiles of officials and the games they called. It turns out Breeding has officiated in two Kentucky games this season — the Arkansas game and the game last year against the Cleveland St. Vikings. Last season, he did not officiate in any Kentucky games at all. In fact, the last game he officiated where Kentucky was involved before this season was in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 when Kentucky faced Cornell.

The one remarkable thing I can find is that the Arkansas game had more fouls called than any game Breeding has officiated in this season (60). The next closest would have been the Oklahoma St. - Memphis game in Stillwater, where 55 fouls were whistled. Right after that is Texas A&M vs. Sam Houston St. at 51.

Roger Ayers and Ron Groover were the other two officials, and Groover's profile looks similar to that of Breeding this season, while Groover's looks like he's never been involved in a game this season with anywhere close to this many fouls other than the one in Fayetteville. 60 is the most in any game in which any of these guys have participated, but in the case of two of them, not by very much.

With that said, there is no way to figure out who whistled which foul among the crew (other than trying to divine it from the tape). These stats are merely totals for the games Breeding officiated in, and even though 60 is an unusually high number of fouls, we have to be honest and say that both teams could have probably been whistled for significantly more than that — it was a very rough and tumble game where Arkansas was depending on their depth, and hence were not that worried about fouls. They have a lot of interchangeable parts, even though those parts are pretty small by Kentucky standards.

In the end, I see nothing particularly alarming about Breeding calling the game other than the fact that it allows fans and the school to question his fairness with at least a prima facia basis. I think that places him in an unfortunate and awkward position, and it would seem to me a much better idea for whoever assigns officials to do so with the best interests of the official at heart. I don't think placing a Louisville graduate in a Kentucky game meets that standard. I mean this with no disrespect at all to Breeding; in fact, I mean it in a sympathetic way. I prefer to believe he is both competent and well-intended, but why not take school affiliation into account? It seems they were doing it before. What changed?

Anyway, feel free to weigh in on the subject.

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