Sure, I’ll blog about St. John’s/Rutgers.

I’ve fallen off the wagon a little as far as addressing officiating-related newsmakers of late, but even I (with a 6-day-old in the house, no less) have noticed that the current blood lust for officials Jim Burr, Tim Higgins, and Earl Walton after St. Johns’ defeat of Rutgers in the first round of the men’s Big East tournament today.  So I checked out the video.

Ouch.  It’s pretty clear that this was a bad error.  What’s especially bad is that any of the three officials could reasonably have made the call.  In the ESPN video here, I think it’s Burr in the new-lead position on the left.  He’s looking down the sideline (though he might be screened by the player right in front of him).  Walton is the C.  He can’t call the out of bounds violation, but he can certainly call that travel–even from across the court.  We’ve been encouraged to get that call this year.  And the new-trail (I think it’s Higgins) probably has the worst look at the play (he might even be keeping an eye on the player on the floor rather than the ball).  But somebody has to make the obvious crew-saving call there.  I’m baffled as to why nobody did.

But the fallout–at least in the above ESPN clip–isn’t that bad.  Rece Davis is very careful to point out that Jim Burr is one of the very best around.  So is the NCAA head of officiating (who was contacted about it).  The Big East commissioner called the end of the game “unacceptable,” which I think everyone–including Burr, Higgins, and Walton–agree with.  And while partisan blogs are going bonkers, that’s to be expected.  (My favorite:  “Everybody knows that, when Jim Burr or Tim Higgins are officiating a game, there will be at least one bad call.”  Isn’t this true of every ref, player, coach, garbage man, politician, chef…?  And if it’s that easy to be perfect, why aren’t you officiating?  You’d be reffing the Final Four inside of five years.)   ESPN, where I normally expect breathless ref-bashing, isn’t that bad.  In addition to Rece Davis, Hubert Davis says that the bonkers situation at the end may have made the call difficult.  He’s bending over backwards to be kind, I think, which is appreciated (who does that for refs, after all?).  Digger Phelps responds by saying the errors are unacceptable (which I agree with).  He blames ref fatigue.  I don’t know what it’s like to work 4 or 5 games a week from November to March and be on a plane every night, but I know that these officials earned this assignment, and I trust the assignors to put good officials rather than bad ones on tournament games.

So why such kindness and muted criticism?  To be honest, I think it’s about Jim Joyce.  I think the whole Joyce/Galarraga thing humanized refs and umpires more than any event ever.  Mike Pereira’s presence on Fox NFL broadcasts was the next step.  I now want a prominent recent ref on call for all big sporting events.  The NCAA tourney is probably the next one.  Get a recently-retired Final Four ref to say what happened from a ref’s perspective, even if it’s to show clear mistakes.

Irv Brown, who officiated six Final Fours, was a Nuggets’ color man when I grew up in Denver.  Even as a kid, I liked his perspective on the give-and-take between officials and coaches.  Who’s this generation’s Irv Brown?  And can he take moments like this one (or perceived-but-not-actual-errors, like the Jeff Green non-travel a few years ago…and sorry about the repetitious local announcer there) and diffuse them before they blow up with a gentle personality and unflappable delivery of the facts?

So, my heart goes out to this officiating crew.  There but for the grace of God go any of us.  And my thanks go out to the classy Rutgers coach (who said that the refs made a mistake, as did players and coaches) and to the ESPN crew for not starting the ref-bashing feeding  frenzy that I’m certain we would have been subjected to as recently as 5 years ago.

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About Paul Hamann
I am a basketball referee in Washington State, working mostly high school games.

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