Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ever Wonder Why the Same Few Officials Work All the Big Games?

To what extent is an elite college basketball referee overworked through the course of a season?

In other words, doesn’t the same little clique of officials, in one formation or other, seem to call every heavily hyped, high-profile game? And aren’t there certain refs with whom even a casual channel-hopper regularly crosses paths – up and down your cable dial and from all corners of the hoops world?

The situation is hardly novel, nor is it exclusive to the men’s game. Dee Kanter, one of the pioneers among female NBA officials, has deemed an ample slate of Division I work a better gig – with no apparent impact on her WNBA employability.

Periodically, a call for reform is sounded, the need to limit the frequency of an official’s assignments, maybe some restriction on the amount of travel. Heck, coaching icon Bob Knight, until recently occupying first chair in the curmudgeon section of the ESPN orchestra, can deliver a diatribe at the drop of a hat.

Inevitably, the moment passes and “official” existence keeps on truckin’.

Equally inevitable is the fact that these arbiters of our games can and do at times overwork themselves – physically, emotionally or both – to the point of ineffectiveness. This certainly seemed to be the case during the latter stages of the NBA’s recent season of condensed play.

In this world of ours, so data-centric and analytical, I can’t help but wonder if anyone’s tried to put a ruler to the “fatigue factor” for these so in-demand whistle-tooters.

In a recent piece for The Roar, David Friedman postulates that minutes played (i.e. work rate) is a more accurate indicator of a player’s value than some of our new-fangled scales of performance evaluation.

Here’s an idea – maybe someone in a Statistics class somewhere could do this as a project.
Each game in the NCAA Tourney’s Round of 64 uses a separate trio of referees; that requires 96 officials. It shouldn’t be too cumbersome to obtain a record of the extent and competitive level of each one’s work.

As Mr. Friedman argues, the extent to which one is actually participating in the action is an accurate (and reasonable) standard of measure.

And rest assured, no ambitious official turns down work.

When one chooses to pursue seriously the craft of “calling good ball well,” the goal is to become THE guy to officiate THE game. One is also taught that every game is important to those involved, thus deserving of one’s best effort.

The better officials (all sports, all levels), the ones who keep getting to call THE game even as the schedule wanes and the games grow few, take pride in such consistency and regularity of work. It’s ingrained in the culture if not the mental make-up of an official. I have little doubt that Joey Crawford genuinely believes, however preposterous it may sound, that he’s THE guy for all 1200+ games every season

That particular manifestation of ego, present to some degree in any official worth his/her salt, is the cost of engaging in an avocation where a common standard of proficiency is that one go un-noticed.