Monday, March 26, 2012

Basketball Officiating

I love basketball. I always have. It was the first professional sport I watched with any regularity. I spent countless hours as a kid shooting hoops in my driveway pretending I was Larry Bird. However, with notable exceptions (the Celtics championship runs of 2008 and 2010), I rarely watch basketball anymore. Why is this? In a word: officiating. Basketball officials have WAY too much power. The given vagueries of a referees foul calls often dictate the pace and outcome of a game more than the play of a superstar. They turn the ending of great basketball games into boring trips to the different free throw lines.

It was with great chagrin I saw this play out yet again in the Syracuse/Ohio State contest on Saturday night. The foul calls came fast and furious, often for nothing more than incidental contact, making what could have been a magical matchup into a long slog whose biggest suprises came when someone would score a basket without a foul being called. As put it:

The Orange, who committed an average of only 15 fouls a game this season, were whistled 29 times tonight, while the Buckeyes were called for 20 fouls. ...
Of the 16 players that took the floor, three fouled out, 10 committed at least three fouls, and everyone committed at least one foul.
With Sullinger sidelined for most of the first half, there was a huge chunk of the game where the best player on the floor, one of the best players in college basketball, was unable to compete and showcase his skills in front of a national audience.
The same goes for Dion Waiters, and also Rakeem Christmas.
Even when the team’s best players were on the court, many were reluctant to play with a smidgen of physicality.
And that's a shame. I don't know much about Ohio State, but it's been a joy watching Syracuse play this year. Despite their many flaws (overconfidence, inability to rebound, maddening tendency to fall asleep at the most inopportune times), Jim Boeheim assembled an incredible team whose depth made them more multi-faceted then 99% of college basketball teams. And when it counted most, they couldn't play their game. Not because they tried and failed, but because they were denied the opportunity to play the game as they had played it throughout the rest of the season.  And that's a damned shame. Hopefully Syracuse will be back in the Elite Eight again next year (even if Dion Waiters, arguably their most skilled player, won't be with the team), because it'd like to see more of them - and this time, it would be nice if the refs would let them play the game.

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