O Captain My Captain

I have some issues with captains.

It’s been clear to me for some time that I have trouble remembering who the captains are.  It’s a matter of memorizing a series of numbers, and I just don’t do that well. In varsity games, I then try to say “captain…” to the captain as he/she runs by me for a fist bump in pregame introductions, but I never remember all two or three of the captains who run by.

So I am trying to focus on remembering one.

Some crew chiefs (including, sometimes, me) ask for a “speaking captain.”  I’ve never much liked that, since I will talk to any player who talks to me politely.  But I may revert to that because it will give me one person to seek out and only one number to memorize.  Do I tell the players “Hey, this is the person I’ll be looking for–you may have to seek me out otherwise”? Or do I just keep it secret in my head?

This could have come in handy the other night: a non-captain had been T’d up late in the game, and was in danger of saying something stupid to me (she wasn’t upset, just saying things). This would have been an ideal time to say to the captain “Hey, captain–can you get this kid away from me and keep her out of trouble?”  But to do that, I need to remember the captains.

Maybe I start doing that tomorrow.


Rulebooks and Nachos: Overview

I tried something this summer to get acquainted with the rule book.  I probably should have blogged about it as I went along, but instead, I’ll put up a review of it now.

It’s something I called Rulebooks And Nachos.  At the last meeting of last year, I asked if any of my colleagues were interested in heading to a sports bar once a month to discuss the rulebook one section at a time. We did just that. I had as few as two fellow refs join me and as many as 14 for the last one.  Typically, we had 5-6 refs present with our rulebooks.  I’d read the section–both rulebook and casebook–carefully the night before and write down anything I noticed about the section. Notes fell into general categories of:

–stuff I had been unknowingly getting wrong,
–stuff that I had been getting right, but now know why, and
–rules that we, as an association, have simply decided not to follow.

We would talk for 60-90 minutes about the rules. Nothing too serious could take place (after all, it’s hard to be serious when nachos and beer are involved). Conversations would wander, and I’d let them, but would always try to take them back to the rule at hand. Only in the last (and biggest) meeting did conversation go to the ubiquitous complaining about “this association is all politics” and the like. I was proud we had avoided that for so long.

I plan on doing this again.  Here are some tips I have if you want to try something similar with your association.

1.  The name is CRITICAL.  People wanted to call it a “rules clinic” or a “rules class.”  I was adamant that it was neither for two reasons.  One, I didn’t want to be in a position as a teacher, since I didn’t feel like I knew more about the rules than most of my colleagues (which is why I invented Rulebooks and Nachos in the first place).  Two, I wanted people actually to show up over the summer.  Making it a “class” would dissuade people…but who can say no to a piping-hot plate of melty, messy nachos?

2.  Location mattered.  I picked a popular sports bar because I wanted it to be really informal. That worked with some caveats.  One, I had to make sure that no refs under 21 wanted to attend, because if they did, we’d have to evacuate the bar area and head back to the “family area.”  Second, we had to be thoughtful about the night of the week: once football season started, we couldn’t do Monday or Thursday nights since the place would be too loud.

3.  I was clear that people should show up whenever they could: if they came only once, that was sufficient.  People have family obligations or are working other sports.  I get that.  Again, informality was pretty crucial.

4. That said, I do wish there were a way to convince people to actually read the section of the rulebook before arriving.  I’ve been in many book clubs in my life, and I am annoyed by the person who shows up without having read the book who still thinks their input means something. I guess it’s okay to have them there so their misconceptions can be shot down, but I’d like to find a way to gently encourage people to, you know, read the rulebook.

5.  Conversation inevitably turned to which rules we choose to set aside. I think there’s no more critical discussion than this. My conclusion after a summer of these discussions (and a Referee magazine article I penned, and the discussions I had with top-notch officials about that…but that’s another story entirely):  if a referee is going to say “I know what the rulebook says I should do, but I won’t do it,” he/she had better have a pretty irrefutable reason to veto the book. “I don’t like the rule” is not sufficient.

6. Next year, I will go for two changes. First, I may go for a quieter spot, especially if we’re going to have more people showing up (as I suspect we might). That said, I still want it to be a sports bar because…Second, I will try to always have a basketball game nearby. Our best meeting was the one we had before the Wisconsin/Kentucky NCAA Final Four matchup. We discussed the game as it was on. Now, of course, that was a game everyone wanted to see, but even to have a NBA D-League game or a WNBA game on in the background might bring up discussion. Third, I will want to have more people than just me come in with questions/observations of each rule. That way the show can go on without me, and if we wind up with more than 10 people present, we can divide up into separate tables to have separate discussions. Also, I don’t know that I’ll have different stuff to say next year. Maybe I will.

In any event, I feel like I know the rules WAY better this year than I did last year.  The proof of the pudding will be in the season, of course. But I was pleased with how a half-dozen or so refs from diverse experience and skill levels kept returning. It was a fine thing to do with the summer, and I think your association should try something similar. If you do, tell me about it in the comments: maybe you’ll come up with an angle I missed that would help out here.

The latest officiating controversies…

involve high school.

Usually, people get all up in arms about the pros or major college.  But it was a pretty quiet year (knock wood) in NFL officiating (I firmly believe Mike Pereira is the #1 reason why), and I don’t recall any severe issues in college football, which I’ll admit I don’t follow too closely.  And the NBA and NCAA hoops season have gotten off to a big start.

But one can still hear breathless incredulity and even anger at officials on the national sports shows.  It’s just that they’re going after high school officials lately.

There have been two major high school issues in the past month or two.  The first took place in one of the Massachusetts state football finals.  A player for Cathedral High School stuck his fist in the air en route to what would have been the go-ahead touchdown with four minutes left.  The referee called him for celebrating before he got to the end zone. Since Massachusetts, to my understanding, plays by NCAA rules rather than NFHS rules, that meant they went with a new NCAA penalty…rather than enforcing the penalty on the ensuing kickoff, the touchdown was nullified and the penalty enforced from the spot of the foul.  Cathedral got the ball at the 35-ish yard line with four minutes left, but they didn’t manage to get the TD and wound up losing.

When I watched the video, I’ll admit I wondered if the play could be considered a taunt.  If I understand the rule correctly (and I don’t know how the rule is written), it necessitates an unsportsmanlike act.  In my gut, I don’t know that this play qualifies.  HOWEVER, I would imagine that the Massachusetts rules interpreters and coaches have been over that rule repeatedly, and have even discussed how the penalty would be enforced.  If there were meetings with coaches where they said “Tell your players not to do a damned thing until they cross the goal line,” then the official who threw the flag was doing the absolute right thing.

Fact is, I’m not a football official, nor familiar with the situation in Massachusetts, so I’d need a whole lot more context before making a decision.

Now, I never watch yelling-head sports shows on ESPN.  I find I prefer periodontic work.  But I will admit that I’m uncomfortable in any situation where I am agreeing with Skip Bayless in the above link, since I honestly believe he picks out his opinions based on incorrectness and unpopularity.  But they don’t have the background knowledge of either the rule or the way Massachusetts officials decided to enforce it.  And the story that it was the kid’s 18th birthday?  Yeah, I feel for the kid, sure–but did they really expect the official to (a) know that fact and (b) factor it into his decisions that day?  That’s crazy.

Also, notice how Julie Foudy is trying so hard to do the only thing that matters in this situation:  to read the rule.  It seemed (from what little I could hear of her over the junior-high shouting of the men on set) like she disagreed with the call, but at least she was disagreeing with it through examination of the rule rather than some inflamed sense of empathy that we as officials just can’t have. And in the face of the self-evidently inaccurate headline of “Celebration Penalty Costs Massachusetts Team Title” (really?  they couldn’t have scored from near the red zone in four minutes?  there were no other moments or mistakes in that game that could have turned it Cathedral’s way?), that’s appreciated.

The biggest jerk in all of this was Boston mayor Thomas Menino, who apparently has so few other pressing issues in his job that he took the time to stereotype and bash officials/rulesmakers:

“I think sometimes these rules are written by frustrated athletes,” Menino said from Cathedral, according to Wednesday’s Boston Herald. “They never participated in a sport, and they don’t know what it is to be excited. You play in a football game, you run for a touchdown, and you do something special.”

I know that Menino, as a politician, isn’t accustomed to letting facts interfere with a soundbite.  But NCAA rules, like rules at pretty much all levels, are written by administrators, coaches, and officials.  Almost all coaches and officials have played the sport they coach/officiate, and I’d bet that a good chunk of administrators who want to be on a rules committee have as well.  I can almost forgive guys like Stephen A. Smith for yelling crap about a high school official: that’s where his bread is buttered.  But the mayor of Boston?  He needs to stuff a sock in it.  On top of being factually untrue, his quote sets a horrible example for the kids of his city and state.

Anyway, that lasted a couple of days of the news cycle.  And then, the next time officiating was in the news, it was in my home state.

Seems an uncle of a player from Highland High School (a rural school outside of Yakima) didn’t care for the basketball officiating in his area, especially in the Tri-Cities association (about a half hour east of Yakima).  He therefore filmed his nephew’s game at Connell High School (a rural school outside of the Tri-Cities) on December 22nd.  And since you’ve all likely seen the video, I don’t have to tell you what he filmed.

I certainly don’t believe he filmed 6 flagrant fouls.  (Sure, I’ll play the game that everyone else is playing:  Foul #1 is a common foul with a stern talking-to, #2 the same–although a rebounding foul on 34 preceding that maybe was a better idea, #3 intentional at the least, borderline flagrant–I’d probably toss him if he’d gotten the stern talking-to on #1, #4 intentional not  flagrant, #5 flagrant–didja notice the not-very-stern talking-to that the bald Caucasian official gives #34, which includes a smile and a pat on the butt?  This was not the time for that–and #6 probably a common foul).  But I do believe that the film shows, at the very least, a crew having a really bad day.  I’m not going to get on the bandwagon of  “they should never officiate again.”  But if I were in a game where all of that was going on, I’d be eager to get an intentional or a flagrant foul just to get out the game out of the crapper.

In any event, I find it interesting that the Tri-Cities Herald article about the controversy contained the following quote from the blogger:

[Michael] Christenson, 32, said that his intention was not for the video to go much further than the small community outside Yakima that surrounds the basketball program. His nephew, Tanner Christenson, plays guard for the Scots.

His choice to show the video to his friends locally, and then send it to the WIAA to express his concerns about officiating?  Totally appropriate.  However, his actions don’t match with his words, as this article shows:

Christenson emailed a copy of the video and demands for action to nine Tri-City Herald employees. He also used a Twitter account to send the video to the NCAA, ESPN, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Tony Kornheiser, Mike Wilbon, TNT’s Kenny Smith, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Jim Rome. The Twitter account has since been deleted.

So it feels to me like the poster didn’t just have the intention to express his concern about local officiating, but to nationally humiliate those involved.  There’s no other reason to send the video anywhere outside of state lines.  (What in the world is the NCAA doing on that list, for instance?)  The net result has been death threats against #34 and harassment of his family and the school.  Thankfully, I have not seen the officials’ names in any article, or they would surely have suffered similar invasions of their homes and privacy, which would be just as wrong as the threats against the players (whom I wish could have had their names kept private, but of course, it’s too easy to look up the roster of any high school team on-line).

Much of the conversation about the video is about who is to blame for the rough play.  Christenson says it’s the officials: there would have been “no hard fouls” if the officials hadn’t called it tight to begin with.  Not sure I buy that–a player like #34 was set on creating havoc that night–but I will agree with him that the officials could certainly have minimized the damage he and his teammate did.  Others blame the players, who were, after all, the ones committing the acts of violence.  Others blame the Connell coach, who didn’t pull the kids from the game, and who, it could be argued, has obviously created a culture where such actions are acceptable.

Everyone is overlooking the obvious point that everyone involved is at fault.  There’s no reason to stop at blaming just one of those groups.

We showed this video at our officials’ meeting this past Sunday, and I’m sure my association wasn’t the only one.  There are two lessons to learn here:  #1.  Don’t be afraid to upgrade fouls to intentional and flagrant whenever merited.  Some officials don’t want to “impose on the game,” but that’s just a cowardly justification for taking the easy way out (and that’s not an attack on the Tri-Cities officials: it’s something we’re all guilty of).  #2:  EVERY MOMENT is filmed now.  In fact, in many ways, HS officials are in greater danger than others, since someone with an agenda can create a pretty damning document that doesn’t have context.  While I cannot see a context in which a player is not booted for foul #5, that’s not the point.  The point is that every second of every game, from pulling into the parking lot, through the game, through kibitzing at the restaurant after the game, all the way until we pull into our driveways, we must assume we are on camera.  We therefore cannot ever be lazy about our calls, our words, or our demeanors, no matter the score or the situation.  We’ve got to go by the book all the time, or we’ll wind up on MSNBC and CNN, where non-officials with no knowledge of the difficulty of the job will call for our heads.  And for that, even though I haven’t been friendly here to my colleagues who officiated the Highland/Connell game, I feel for them in the aftermath.  I can say that I’d have done a better job, and I do believe that…but maybe, in a different situation, I’d have an equally bad night–just like maybe a bad night you’d have or Michael Christenson would have if he ever put on a whistle.  In the end, we’re all one bad night and one YouTube posting away from the dark place they are right now.

Or, to put it another way…the film doesn’t lie.  It might present a specific version of the truth, but it doesn’t lie, and we as officials can’t forget that we’re always on tape now.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Okay…not really.  But I want to be ready in case I have a donnybrook this year.  You know…preparation for the worst and all that.

Rulebook and casebook aren’t working for me for the following two questions, so I thought I’d turn to my smart friends here.


A1 and B1 go at it, and B2 (player on the court) jumps in and takes a swing.  As I heroically attempt to end the fight, coaches are beckoned onto the court, but A6, A7, and A8, bench players, come onto the court to cheer on their fighting teammates.

THE PART I KNOW:  All six of those players are tossed.  Gone.  Buh-bye.

THE PART I CAN’T FIGURE OUT:  Free throws?  If the three A bench players hadn’t run onto the floor, A would shoot two technical free throws because of the difference in the number of fouls.  But those bench players DID run onto the floor.  Once my partners and I sort out that fact, do we then shoot ZERO  free throws, since we’d count those bench players as one event (thus making the Technicals a 2-2 even split?)  Or do we count them individually?  Would we then give team B FOUR technical free throws?

SITCH B:  Exactly the same as above, except an assistant coach (or head coach…it doesn’t really matter) for B runs onto the floor.  I know he/she would also be tossed, but would it factor into the free throws?

I do know that, if we shoot Ts, the shooting team would in-bound the ball, and if we don’t, it’d be a point-of-interruption deal.  But what I can’t figure out is who shoots, and how many.

If y’all could help me, especially with a rule or casebook cite, I’d be much obliged.

Player lying on the floor.

Had a big disagreement with my partners (all five of them!) before today’s game.  Wondering what y’all think about this situation.  It happened once last year, and I really felt like I have it right…but let’s see what y’all think (and if you have rule/casebook plays to back you, ’cause I can’t find any).

It all started with this question in this month’s Referee Magazine:

A1 and B2 go for a rebound.  In the attempt to garner the ball, B2 falls to the floor behind A1’s legs.  A1 grabs the ball while upright, then trips over teh fallen B2 while holding the ball.  A1 then lands on the court while holding the ball.  Is that a traveling violation by A1 or is it a blocking foul on B2?  RULING:  B2 is considered to have established legal guarding position  even though being prone on the floor.  Unless B2 makes an effort to trip or block A1, it’s simply a seemingly unfair (and probably very unpopular) traveling violation on A1 for falling to the floor while holding the ball (NFHS 4-44).

OK.  4-44 is the travel rule, so that’s not a helpful reference.  And I don’t see how the Legal Guarding Position applies here at all on this rebound.  When one looks at the LGP rule in 4-23, the player here did NOT gain LGP.

However, in this thread http://forum.officiating.com/basketball/59941-player-laying-floor.html , (which MassRef called my attention to last year), some officials suggest that legal guarding position only applies to whether the player is allowed to move backward or obliquely.  This player didn’t move.  Case in point:  if a player is standing with his back to a ballhandler, and remained stationery, could the ballhandler run up their back and crash into them?  No.  That’s a foul on the offense even in the absence of LGP.  If a ballhandler pivoted and tripped over the stationery player with his back to him (not LGP) and fell to the floor, would we call them for a block?  Nope.  That’s a stone-cold travel.

So why is a player on the floor any different?

I don’t know the answer to this question, and neither the rulebook nor the casebook is helpful.  But I’m bothered that the Referee Magazine question says the player gained LGP, when the rulebook clearly says this isn’t the case.

What’s your take?

What is “definite knowledge”?

Help me out, y’all.  I want to make sure I have this right.  (This stems from a disagreement at camp.)

Thirty seconds left in the half.  Team A inbounds the ball.  Trail official ticks off one-two-three seconds in the backcourt.  Team A then gets it into the frontcourt and throws the ball around for quite some time, tossing the ball everywhere.  Ball is knocked out of bounds.

Everyone looks up at the clock.  Still ten seconds.  Everyone in the gym knows that they were tossing the ball around for a lot longer than that.


Officials come together.  Trail says “I had three seconds of my ten-second count.  Did anyone have a closely-guarded count?”  One official says “I got to 2 seconds once.”  Other official:  “I had no counts.”  Officials then go and take 5 seconds off the clock even though everyone in the gym knows it was longer.  This would especially suck if there were, say, 6 seconds  left in the game instead of 30, but when I look at Casebook plays for rule 5:10, I don’t see any other way to handle it.


He says, if I understand him, that “definite knowledge” doesn’t have to be from a count.  Officials can just say “Well, we know it was longer than that, so let’s take 9 seconds off the clock.”

I know that’s not the right rule, but I’m looking for validation.

By the way, to throw a monkey wrench in all of this, what if there were “definite knowledge” in another way?  Say that, while the game clock didn’t start running, a 35-second shot clock mistakenly did start on the in-bound.  The officials look up and see that it reads 23.  Timer confirms that it started on the in-bound.  Can we call that “definite knowledge” and run 12 seconds off the clock?  What if one of the officials (rather than just the timer) saw the shot clock start on the in-bound?  It seems to me that this is “definite knowledge,” but I’m loath to go with it since I don’t have rulebook or casebook backing.

What do you have?

Some writing I actually got paid for

Here’s a piece Referee magazine asked me to write about the issues surrounding the use of a shot clock at the high school level.  I busted my butt on this, particularly on all those stats and the side bar.  Interested in your opinions.  Hope you like it.  Here it is.