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NCAA Officiating: Bringing Order To Chaos

OK, I had my vent. I ranted about how sad the NCAA has been in their ignorance of serious problems, so let's talk serious about how to fix this one.

I would say something about three blind mice, but...
I would say something about three blind mice, but...

The first half of this discussion was kind of one-sided. By one-sided, I mean I ranted and raved, and offered no real answers to the problem. This is an attempt to fix that mistake.

Sometimes, in order to see a problem clearly, you have to step back from it, look at other angles, and see how the problem came to be in the first place. There is always a cause-effect relationship in these things. So let's look at what has changed in the last fifty years of college basketball and how those things have changed the job of being a referee.

First off, game situations most always dictate changes to the game. When the fans or TV audiences don't like something it has to be addressed, or so people believe. So let's start with television. Television has possibly forced the biggest changes to the college game over the last few decades.

We now have TV timeouts, instant replay, and three to four different camera angles for shots. We have a better overall view of the game than the referees on the floor do, simply because those of us watching our televisions, or the big screen at the game, see the entire game from several directions. This has brought criticism of the officials to a frenzy. We know every mistake they make, even if it does sometimes take those multiple camera angles to show it. The referees don't have that ability,and even if they did, it might make the situation worse than it actually is. We want the call right, but don't want to slow the action to a crawl to do it.

The officials now rely on the replay more and more, but only when something is brought to their attention. This seems to be working much better than in football, where IR is still not working as well as it should. Most officials will go to the replay if the situation allows, and they will then rectify the mistake, or at least get the call as right as they can, which means more work. This does not, however, take into account the mood and attitude of officials, much like the Pac-12 situation where an official called for anyone to accomplish his own personal agenda. Ed Rush says he was joking, but forgive me for not getting the punchline. By the way Ed, we also have these things called cell phones. There is a microphone everywhere you turn, not just on the TV set.

The shot clock innovation became a necessity after Dean Smith decided to play keep-away for a 7.5 minute stretch back in 1982. His "Big Stall" against Ralph Sampson and the Virginia Cavaliers caused the shot clock to be implemented in 1985 at 45 seconds, and to make the game more TV palatable it was reduced to 35 in 1993. In my opinion it should be dropped to 30, but I digress. This meant that officials had to now keep up with shot clock violations, which again, meant more work.

"college basketball officials have a lot on their plates. They serve different masters (league supervisors, the NCAA supervisor, coaches and the court of public opinion), and there is no single person or body that is "in charge" of officiating". -Jay Bilas

The very next year, here came the 3 point shot. The rule that has changed the game completely. Now officials must keep tabs on where a shooters toes are from the arc. When the 3 point shot came into being, a young coach named Rick Pitino used it to propel a Providence team from out of nowhere into the Final Four. Using his young and brash guard, nicknamed "Billy The Kid", Pitino made use of that shot better than anyone, as he made defenses actually come out and guard Donovan, his own personal bombardier. This lengthened the court and forced the referees to cover more and more ground during a game. Are we beginning to establish a pattern here?

The game has become so much more than it once was, and officiating has not grown with those changes. I am not saying we need more calls made, but we need the right calls made at the right time, not as a make-up call three possessions later. Jay Bilas, the man who most people consider a voice of reason in college basketball, has some points to consider concerning the officials.

I propose we start with this:

  1. The NCAA opens up it’s own officiating branch. They hire, fire, and train all of the officials for every league. No more SEC, B1G, etc. going out and getting their own. The NCAA handles all officiating. The officials are all full time employees of the NCAA and they are paid for by the same money that is used now, simply funneled through the NCAA. This means they would also get pensions and benefits, etc. These things should make the officials more appreciative and hopefully harder working to get better at the jobs they do. No more paunch-bellied gentlemen trying to keep up with lightning quick guards running up and down the court. They train, get in shape, and should be athletic like the players they call games for.

  2. Standardize all rules for both men’s and women’s NCAA games so that officials can work both. The rules need to be exactly the same and that way the calls should be as well.

  3. Officials should attend off-season AND in-season training classes. Make them year-round. If they are going to be compensated like full-time employees, they need to be trained in their profession every available chance.

  4. Disciplinary actions for officials who cannot maintain the minimum standards, and periodic reviews for all officials. Make them sit and watch their mistakes. Make them consult with their crew on any call that cen decide the outcome of a game, and teach them how to make the game better and not take it over.

  5. Open communication between coaches and officials. Give them periodic meetings to ask each other questions, share information, and make sure they know each other as much as possible. Try and remove the animosity from the equation.

  6. Make everything that goes on in dealing with officials public. Put the officials in press conferences after the games. Make them explain their calls to the public. (This one may be a bridge too far, but since it's my proposal, I could not resist)

  7. Simplify the rules. Case in point: A player may not move from their position under the basket to throw in a ball, unless a basket was previously made by the opposing team. Why? Either let them move, or don’t. No need for two rules.

  8. Install a replay official that has the authority to overrule any call.

These are only examples of things that could be done. The reform should be extensive, comprehensive, and more than anything else, it needs to be very public and measurable. There should be a very results-based program put in place for the officials who want to work in the post season. They need to be able to show that they have the ability to do the job that they are hired to do. The system needs to work, and when it does not, it needs to be changed to correct it. You don’t wait 5 years to decide if something is good or bad. You study the problem and fix it. You do not allow substandard employees to control what happens in the NCAA Tournament.

A lot of talk has been circulating about simplifying and fixing the recruiting rules. That’s great, and has been a long time coming -- almost as long as there has been a need to change the officiating -- basketball, football, baseball, all of it. Put every official of every NCAA sport on the payroll. And then, make them earn it. They are already getting paid, they just are not providing the optimum performance for that pay. As to who's fault that is? Well, I'll let you folks decide that.