Everyone says it and it’s so. The future of officiating in all sports has never been more suspect, and here’s the reason. We’ve made it impossible to officiate!
UC basketball coach Mick Cronin got thrown out of the Bearcats’ game with South Florida the other night, the first time in his thirteen seasons as coach.
Said Cronin,“His tough guy buddy threw me out,” of the official in question. “When they did, they almost penalized a group of kids and they should be suspended. Instead, the league office is monitoring my press conference right now to see if I say anything wrong. That’s the problem with our sport.”
No Mick, that’s just part of the problem with your sport, and any other sport, for that matter.
In the first place Mick Cronin has a serious case of what many coaches like him have. Except, it’s not reserved for just people small in stature. Big men have it, too. Trust it, as someone who worked high school basketball for five years in the Columbus City League, and eight years of minor league baseball, A to Triple A, people with experience in officiating can spot it from four blocks away. Everyone’s out to get people like Mick Cronin, Bob Huggins, Frank Martin, and Tom Izzo, who work officials tirelessly…and Izzo really doesn’t need to. His players are good enough to win on their own.
But as all sports have evolved to become faster, more aggressive, and they tell me more entertaining…we’ve asked officials to do more than is humanly possible in the blink of an eye – in a split second.
We’ve abandoned the rules of basketball, for instance, to conform to the way contemporary kids and coaches now want to play. If they’re big and physical they want that to be to their advantage. “Let ‘em play,” I hear all the time. So instead of asking officials to call contact, we’re now asking them to interpret contact, and do it instantly, and it’s tough to do that with consistency, which is what we say we want. Make some mistakes if you must, but just be consistent.
We want to keep all the players in the game because the game is about the kids; and it’s bad to call technical fouls because that’s an embarrassment to the district. We can’t have a coach rip off his coach and sling it behind the bench. What will the school board do when all those parents start calling demanding kinder and gentler?
You know, of course, that I’m a bit opinionated…but I’m about to drop a bomb on the whole issue of officiating and what we expect from officials.
My view on officiating is no different than my view is on law enforcement. We don’t want authority out there in any kind of uniform; rather, we want a friend. We want officials to warn players about holding and three seconds in the lane. We want them to yell “straight up” instead of just blowing the whistle. We want them to be patient at all costs, even if it means losing respect for their position.
We don’t want policemen to be feared and respected anymore. We want them to hand out McDonald’s gift cards. Be a friend, rather than an authority figure. Skip rope with the gang on the corner, instead of asking why fifteen boys with no seeming purpose are standing around with nothing better to do.
No one gets ejected from games anymore in high school, even when they should. More embarrassment, and sends the wrong message about sportsmanship. Someone wrote to Press Pros last year and stated, “I want to see good sportsmanship and kids shaking hands after the game.” But we also want ‘em to grow up with the skills to compete in life, as well. So we want it both ways.
When I was working in Double A baseball, I once stopped to see National League umpire Doug Harvey work a game in Atlanta. He invited us into the umpires locker room after the game and talked for almost two hours about ‘officiating’. Now this was Doug Harvey, hall of famer, and widely-regarded as the best to ever work.
“Officiating is a matter of game management,” Harvey said. I took notes – still have them.
“Interpretation of the strike zone should be a fluid thing. Call strikes at all costs because strikes make the game work better. If a manager or player is disrupting the flow of the game by arguing too much, remove them. And always remember that your position is that of representing the league on the field. You have to be the authority figure for the league. Otherwise, you have chaos.”
Earlier this season at a UD game veteran official Ted Valentine shared this. “Guys are getting out sooner now. It’s different now.” Too much chaos?
Doug Harvey was so well respected that baseball people called him, “God”. ‘Nuff said. But there are no gods out there today working…because we don’t want ‘em. We want people who are “reasonable”, and who listen to the point of being indecisive.
We want people that coaches and players can call a friend, because friends always give you the benefit of the doubt, over the benefit of the rules and experienced judgment.
We want people we can control and manipulate, like Mick Cronin wants…someone he can count on when he can’t count on his players. That’s exactly what Doug Harvey said to me forty years ago.
Because, Harvey concluded, “The officiating is always better than the playing. You know damned well that officials are going to get more than three out of ten calls right (a .300 average in baseball).”
I thought of that the other night as I watched a basketball team shoot 50% from the foul line. Tough to blame THAT on the officials. Just my opinion….!