Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Did you like the calls during the UNC-FSU game?

No, no, you did not like the calls during the UNC-FSU game. It doesn't matter if you're a UNC fan, an FSU fan, or just a plain ol' basketball fan. The game was not well-officiated. Karl Hess is partially to blame. The funny thing about Hess & Company's poor performance is the rant posted below, written by Jonathan Howard before the game even started. He's a VCU alum, so he's none too happy about the VCU-Northeastern game:

When comparing college sports, sometimes it's really difficult to figure out which is better, football or basketball. On the one hand, college football season affords fans to build up excitement for an entire week before cheering their guts out on Saturday. On the other hand college basketball's post-season system is one of the most exciting in all of sports. However, there is one thing that I believe college football has that college basketball has yet to figure out: Consistency within the refereeing system.

Now, I'm not trying to say that all college football referees are great. Some are just plain horrible. ACC fans such as myself have yet to figure out how Ron Cherry is still employed. However, at least it's consistent. College football referees are not independent contractors. They work in crews with specific conferences. Basically, while Ron Cherry tends to be a giant question mark in the eyes of the arm-chair quarterback, at least he and his crew are the same giant question mark week in and week out while doing ACC games. If something goes wrong, they'll hear about it – as a group.

College basketball is a completely different animal. Referees are independent contractors. While they may appear in a number of conference games, they are not tied down to any specific conference, enabling to do a number of games in different conferences per week. Also, because they are independent contractors, they can do as many games as they want. I'm sure the same fans who shutter at the thought of Ron Cherry on the football side, have the same reaction to Karl Hess, Duke Edsall and Jamie Luckie on the basketball court.

However, the performances of these officials have more factors attached to it. For one, because they are independent, they don't work with the same people every time. This makes for a different flow in officiating for every game. Referees can work together many times, but it's not a night-in and night-out kind of thing. Also, referees are humans just like the athletes, and have to do just as much running. If referees are traveling the country and doing multiple games per week, it puts strain on their bodies. Like an athlete, they suffer from fatigue. And to put it bluntly, like an athlete it leads to a decline in performance.

Hess is a great example of this. Tuesday night he officiated a CAA contest between Virginia Commonwealth and Northeastern. It was his sixth game in seven days and rumor around the arena was that he'd be doing the North Carolina-Florida State game on Wednesday. It's safe to say that those in attendance found Hess' (and really the entire crew's) performance on Tuesday below par. And why not? He's been running up and down a basketball court all week, he just did a Big East game the night before with an ACC showdown the following night. Why is a Colonial Athletic Association game important? The fact is, the VCU-NU game was for first place in a conference that is highly competitive at the top. It deserved the same type of attention that a UNC-Duke or Pittsburgh-Georgetown game would receive. Unfortunately, it did not, and the flow and consistency of the game showed it.

I have a simple solution for this problem and perhaps the NCAA will one day think of it to. Simply manage basketball referees the same way they manage their football counterparts. Make them work in crews, within one conference, and limit their games. Games will instantaneously become more consistent and have an even flow. No referee will have to be singled out because it will be on the crew to have a solid performance. Until this happens, college basketball officiating will continue to be a joke.

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