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Kentucky Basketball: Kentucky Fans Keep "Ref Rage" Under Control

Anger at the officials is a feature of every fan base, but Kentucky fans are among the best at controlling it.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

It's a fact that, as far as I know, every team's fans hate on the game officials at one point or another, often with some justification — after all, refs are people, too, and as prone to error as the rest of us. When officials make a mistake that becomes obvious on replay, fans tend to keep mental score, and even if they are inclined to allow a few errors without much complaint, there is always a threshold beyond which aggrieved fans will begin to complain. Obviously, for some fans, that threshold is, shall we say, lower than others.

Jon Bois of SB Nation did an impromptu study of the communities for the teams that played in the NCAA Tournament to try to reveal their levels of what he calls, "Ref Rage" (Thanks to a long-time member of A Sea of Blue for bringing it to my attention):

Ref rage is fan dissatisfaction, criticism, anger, et al. directed toward a basketball game's officiating crew. It can be completely rational -- sometimes a referee will clearly miss an out-of-bounds call, for example -- but it's often highly biased.

Lest all this come off as a scold, I'm as guilty of this as anybody. From the comfort of a living room, I'll freely call a ref an asshole or tell him to fuck off before I take a moment to consider whether a call was the correct one. This interests me, because this is not who I am. So during this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament, I decided to qualify and quantify ref rage.

We are all guilty of ref rage. While I often will remark a time or two per game about the quality of the officiating on A Sea of Blue, that does not reflect reality — I am quite frequently complaining to my television set, my wife, my dog — even to myself, and myself often replies. This is proof positive, if any is needed, that basketball officiating at any level can lead to actions that, in most other contexts, would be referred to as "madness" or "insanity." Extreme forms of ref rage can lead to the hurling of objects as well as epithets, holes in walls and doors, and the rueful necessity of television replacement. Thankfully, my ref rage has never gone quite that far.

Well, dear reader, this discussion very likely includes you as a card-carrying member of the Big Blue Nation. If you are a fan of some other school, you may be included too, although considering the lack of popularity of basketball in some places, you may not be aware that your team was a participant at all. But in the interests of sample size, Bois set a threshold level for inclusion:

In the interests of providing a large sample size, I identified each blog that averaged at least 175 comments per open thread. (There were 23 such blogs.) I then re-read every open thread of every blog and searched for comments that included the word, "ref."

You can read the article for the scoring system, which is mostly logical and not too snarky, although when you are doing an analysis of this sort, some snark is surely necessary, and welcome, to prevent an attack of narcolepsy while reading. In the interest of brevity, we'll move on to the results, and since this is a Kentucky community, we'll focus first on our own results.

A Sea of Blue

A Sea of Blue, as it turns out, mostly shuns ref rage. Although we were not the lowest, ASoB was 5th lowest out of the 23 team sites included in the study. Those of you who have been around for years will find this unsurprising. Generally, our officiating comments are very mild and quite spotty, although they most certainly do exist. However, constant badgering of officials is mostly shunned, and I don't think I have ever seen an instance of threats or wishing horrible things like cancer or death on officials. Not every community, by the way, can make that claim.

Here is Bois' summary of the results:

One thing that caught my eye: the typical score of the school that had "been there." Some of the highest scores belong to programs like UCLA and UNC, which have reached the Final Four time and again. But I couldn't help but note that a lot of the really low scores belong to schools -- Villanova, Syracuse, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Kansas -- that I'd identify as "basketball schools." Some such teams played far into the tournament, and others made relatively early exits, but none were particularly prone to criticizing the refs. Maybe that's because they watch more basketball, and/or maybe they rest in the knowledge that they'll be back next year.

Perhaps he's right. I prefer to think that a lot of "basketball schools" simply don't go overboard on this because 1) it's seen as shameful when taken to excess and 2) they don't want to be seen as poor sportsmen. Maybe that's true of football schools when it comes to officiating as well, which would lend credence to Bois' theory.

Other interesting results

Louisville, when playing Kentucky

If you were ever looking for proof that the Louisville fans take the games against UK more seriously than Kentucky fans, this is probably it. Bois, as it turns out, is himself a Louisville fan, and his study shows that when Kentucky plays Louisville, Card Chronicle really, really drags out the ref hate:

The first two rounds were pretty worrisome at times, but they managed to keep their ref rage well under the SB Nation average. And then, on March 28th, it all went to Hell.

Our Cards were defending national champions. It didn't matter. This was Kentucky. Fuckin' refs, y'all.

Heh. Kentucky fans are not immune, but apparently, we are more prone to blaming our players or team than the refs. Not sure that is better, but whatever.


It sort of surprised me to find Bruins Nation in a constant state of outrage, but their lowest level of rage was roughly five times ASoB's average. That is one dysfunctional fan base right now. No wonder they hate their coach — they apparently hate everybody:

UCLA beat a Conference USA team by nearly 20 points, and Bruins Nation was furious. UCLA handily beat a Southland Conference Cinderella by the same margin, and Bruins Nation was angry. UCLA lost to Florida, the No. 1 team in the nation, and BRUINS NATION WENT APESHIT.

In fact, the Florida-UCLA game registered the highest level of furious outrage of any game in the entire tournament, the vast majority attributable to the Bruin faithful:

Of every game examined, none produced more ref rage than UCLA's Sweet 16 matchup against Florida. In this game, Bruins Nation generated a ref rage score of 61. Despite seeing their team win, Alligator Army finished with a ref rage score of 16 in only 712 comments.


Nebraska is not a basketball school. In fact, I'm surprised that Nebraska fans are aware that their team played in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, or that they are even aware of a game called "basketball." Apparently, though, they are, because Corn Nation cast aspersions upon all aspects of the ref's humanity in their one NCAA Tournament game:

11-seed Nebraska was promptly dispatched in the first round of the tourney by Baylor, so they only had one game thread to offer. But that one game thread. Hooooo man. Their contribution to this study was so short, so angry, and so profane. It felt like a crank call.

I'm glad I didn't have coffee in my hand when I read this.

Ohio St., the nicest of them all

Land Grant Holy Land is a nice place, with nice folks. They are a football school, some might even argue "the" football school. However, I can tell you that these guys are aware of college basketball, watch it and enjoy it — although I think in a relatively different way from, say, Kentucky fans. They look at college basketball much as we do women's basketball or baseball, and have a relatively low emotional investment in the game.

Whether my perception is accurate or not, they are certainly not prone to blaming the refs. In their one NCAA Tournament game, they made what can only be considered a nice comment about the officiating. Their score was actually a -11.42, the only blog evaluated that had a negative average. Impressive, LGHL. Very impressive.

I guess that will be really tested when the Buckeys play the Louisville Cardinals next season in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Perhaps that would be a good one to revisit and see how both teams do.

In summary, you should really read the whole piece over at SB Nation, it's really good and there are a number of very creative gifs and images there that add value to the piece. Good stuff.