Officials in all sports, regardless of level, whether volunteers, private contractors or full-time employees, have thankless jobs. A good day is when you go unnoticed. A bad day entails venom from over-caffeinated parents, athletes, coaches, fans and reporters.
“I can’t even tell you who officiated the game after the game is over,” Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton said this week. “I try to avoid getting caught up in what is a very challenging game to officiate 100% correct, and I just accept the fact that they’re going to miss some calls. I’m impressed at how incredibly accurate they are. There’s a lot of judgment calls that can go either way.”
Sage words from the grown-up in the room.
But when officials do not apply rules coherently and correctly, those invested in the competition deserve an explanation, and that’s why the ACC issued a statement late Saturday night regarding the Virginia-Duke men’s basketball game earlier that day.
We could, and some will, endlessly debate the final 1.2 seconds of regulation Saturday.
Did Duke’s Tyrese Proctor get the ball inbounds in the required five seconds or less? Did Virginia’s Reece Beekman and/or Ryan Dunn foul Kyle Filipowski as he attempted to win the game with a dunk? If so, did any foul occur before the clock expired?
Those were snap judgments, and in such cases, human error can intervene. So unless you pine for incessant reviews at the television monitor, relitigating every close call is untenable.
The issue Saturday was the mass confusion that lingered after Tim Clougherty’s foul call against the Cavaliers. At 11:23 p.m., about five hours after UVa’s overtime victory concluded, the ACC released a statement saying a rule had been misapplied and that Filipowski should have been awarded free throws.
Clougherty and fellow veteran officials Jeff Anderson and Lee Cassell — Anderson has worked the past five Final Fours, including last season’s Kansas-North Carolina title game — went to the monitor Saturday, waved off the foul and sent the game into OT.
But why? None of the officials explained the decision to the TV crew, a common practice, and both coaches expressed uncertainty during their postgame news conferences.
Assuming Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Jon Scheyer would be able to enlighten us was my mistake, and it was only after their interviews that I asked Erich Bacher, UVa basketball’s public relations director, to escort me to the officials’ locker room to gather a statement that all in the media could use.
By the time we arrived — again, long after the game’s conclusion — the officials had departed.
ACC policy puts the onus on the home PR staff to obtain clarification from officials when a rule question emerges, but if officials can address such matters to broadcasters during a game, then they should speak directly with a designated pool reporter following the game, especially when they haven’t informed the TV crew.
Working in concert with the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, that is the NCAA’s approach during March Madness, and one I suspect the ACC will be willing to adopt. Moreover, all conferences should embrace such transparency — when the need arises.
Professional leagues such as the NFL and Major League Baseball have similar policies.
What Saturday’s officials would have told me was that the foul was whistled on Dunn and that it occurred after time expired. That would have helped, but I wouldn’t have known the rulebook states that in sequences at the end of a half or game, free throws are still to be awarded, even if the foul happens just after the clock hits zeroes.
Translation: The ACC still would have needed to issue the statement that the officials did not administer the rule properly.
Like most coaches, Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner occasionally stews over questionable whistles, but he cautions against going too far.
“I think we have to treat the officials with respect,” he said, “because eventually people aren’t going to want to officiate, and that’s even going down to the youth-level sports. ... You can disagree, be upset, voice your [opinion] in a private way, but you have to treat them with respect. I think that’s really important.”
The good news is, respect and transparency need not be mutually exclusive.