It’s a random play in the middle of a heated rivalry game between two high school basketball teams. The star player comes off a high ball screen, sees a clear lane to the basket, and flips up a finger roll right as a help defender from the other team steps over to challenge the shot. It looks like a smart, clean play -- textbook help defense. But alas, another whistle, and another deflating march back to the free throw line.
Why does this always seem to happen? Why do we see gluttonous refs feasting on phantom fouls? No one likes watching a stop-and-go game watered down by endless trips back and forth to the charity stripe.
Last weekend the Intramural Office took fellow referee Paul Smith and me on a trip to UMass Amherst to officiate a tournament for men’s and women’s club teams from various universities. The experience shed some light on exactly why we often witness the aforementioned phenomenon. The answer lies in the mindset instilled in young refs during their formative training years, wisdom imparted by their evaluators on the importance of “making a mark” on the game.
From the words of most of the the all-knowing evaluators, the games were about us, the officials. In what I can only speculate was an attempt to pump me up, one of the more experienced refs -- a senior from the University of Maryland -- told me before one of our crew’s final playoff games: “This is our game. We’re the most important team on this floor. Not them, us.” Wait a minute. Weren’t we the refs for the first round of the NIRSA women’s club basketball tournament?
There were a handful of other alarming quotes from the weekend: “If you’ve called Blue 7 for his third foul and he is heated at you and it’s only the first half, maybe be a little more lenient on him in subsequent plays so that he doesn’t have to go out of the game.”
And then there was this one: “Never, ever, ever reverse the call of one of your crew members. If he saw the ball go out of bounds off red and isn’t looking for your help on the play, then it’s his call. Don’t throw him under the bus.”
I interpret these nuggets of sagacity as ways for the referees to save face and defend themselves from criticism, regardless of the effect on the basketball game. Most would agree that a referee’s fundamental job is to get the call right, but at this tournament it seemed that an official’s main responsibility was to uphold his own status as a respected authority. To me, that has a deleterious effect on the integrity of the game itself, making the outcome liable to the pride of a guy dressed up as a zebra.
Now, let’s examine what this means for BC’s intramural program. Luckily, our IM director Daryl Shreve and his right-hand-man Andrew Lutz are spectacular at their jobs. In their referee training sessions, they teach us the intricate rules and go over tricky scenarios, sound mechanics, and proper positioning. None of the pervading themes of my weekend at UMass -- like being an “aggressive” ref -- are present in our post-game evaluations.
It’s an inevitability that we make mistakes. I miss fouls and anticipate hacks before they happen. I’m a human too. It’s just like a player setting a weak screen or forgetting to box out. Accidents happen. We screw up. But we all try our best to get better. Daryl and Lutz preach to their staff that the game is about the players.
I heard one time that the best referees are the ones you don’t notice. They’re only there to keep the game flowing and get out of the way when the players are playing cleanly. At BC we do our best to uphold that standard.
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