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The Ref Show: College Basketball Officiating Needs a Change

In last night's KU/K-State Sunflower Showdown, we were treated to what was a great matchup between two fierce rivals at the top of their game right now. In a matchup that was a revenge game for KU's earlier loss to K-State at Bramlage, we were to expect fireworks, and fireworks we got. Those fireworks were watered down, however, by one thing in particular, a thing that is becoming a bad trend in college basketball. That thing, is the officiating calling fouls at an extraordinarily high number, or straight up not calling anything at all. Inconsistency not necessarily for the teams themselves (In a manner of one team gets called more than the other) but for what defines a foul and what doesn't.


You see, there seems to be a discrepancy regarding what garners a foul call and what doesn't. Some plays result in a foul when it absolutely shouldn't have or could have resulted in the referee simply just letting them play, what people in the industry call a "ticky-tack" foul. Other plays result in a significant no-call when there should have been one. Overall, this is pretty normal for fouls/no-calls such as these to happen from time to time, referees are human and it's really up to the discretion of the official and what they saw. In the case of college basketball this year however, we've seen a significant uptick in officiating drawbacks such as these. Referees either are not making the calls at first then try and make up for it by calling multiple fouls a minute (Such was the case last night) or referees take it to one extreme or the other throughout the game. They either show gross ignorance or want to be the sports entertainment themselves.


As a referee, your job is to call the game with parity and good judgement. Mistakes are understandable, at least they should be, given the climate unfortunately that sometimes is not the case. What we're seeing though is a case of referees getting visibly rattled by home crowds, being too harsh in judgement, or trying to play catchup with foul calling in order to make it "fair". Truth is, "fair" applies to officiating only in fair judgement on calls, not the number of calls a team gets. If a team gets into foul trouble, they did it to themselves. Referees are not there to make sure things are balanced, thereby having an impact on the game, they're there to call the rules with fair judgement and NOT have an impact on the game. It's rule #1 in officiating, and as a former official myself that rule is not being followed by a lot of major sports officials. Yes, people get unnecessarily angry when fouls are called on their team, that's a culture issue that needs to be addressed and solved. It's a game, and while I understand if you're in the business of college and professional sports, so are the officials. These guys are supposed to be good at their job, they wouldn't get paid over six figures if they didn't prove themselves, but when coaches, fans, players, and personnel set a bad precedent by grossly misunderstanding what "fair officiating" means, that causes referees to also set that bad precedent by being "fair" to appease, thereby not calling the game fairly in terms of calling what needs to be called, but calling the game to make sure things are as balanced as possible even when one team is clearly better and more well-disciplined than the other.


In summary, it's not all on the referees, admittedly. I have been guilty (even as recent as last night) at dogging on officials, and while yes, the refereeing isn't the best in the current moment and has gotten out of hand, there's reasons for that that I've analyzed and explained here. Reasons that need to be fixed by the conferences and the NCAA itself. Not only that, however, but the coaches, players, fans, and personnel all must take a look at how they view officiating and the rules of the game, and what exactly "fair" means in the scope of officiating. It's not and never has been about making sure fouls are equal for each team, it's about calling something that has been set as a foul by definition and setting it with fair, honest judgement. Let things go that can be let go, and call things that need to be called. As an official, they are in charge of keeping order in the game, they cannot be shaken by bad attitudes and grumpy people. Be confident, be fair in the realm of what's a foul and what is not, and know your given role if you're the official. You're the judge, now who is guilty and who isn't? Would you convict someone innocent just because the guy whose robbed four banks said he robbed one too, or would you trust the evidence? For those that aren't officials but are still stakeholders in the game, i.e., fans, media, players, coaches, and personnel, recognize that these referees are humans too and may make mistakes. Recognize that these mistakes can be caused by a litany of things, but in the end these referees need to be able to do their job to the best of their ability. One bad or missed call does not impact the game, as much as many would like to believe, but those bad or missed calls only get prevented if you recognize that the referee is calling what they are seeing, and in the end they are the key judge in how the game is played. You are not supposed to have that power to define calls. This goes for all sports, not just basketball. If we give it an understanding and communal effort to improve the culture around sports and officiating, then we will have better officiating.


What are your thoughts on the issue? Anything you want to add? Any officials that read my stuff wanna chime in? Leave your thoughts down below or on social media, let's all work to make our sports better!


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