On officiating sports

If you read my post on PSU beating UC Irvine in the Final Four of the men's vball tournament, you probably gleaned that I'm the type of sports fan that is hard on referees / umpires / whatever they are called in your sport of choice. I will tell you that you are absolutely correct.

My enjoyment of a game that I'm playing in or watching is directly proportional to the quality of the officiating. On Saturday night, Penn State lost to UCLA in the final. It was another horribly officiated match. I will keep most of my complaints to a minimum, though, because (1) PSU proved perfectly capable of losing on their own without the help of the official, and (2) this guy was even worse than the last two jokers, and he blew a call so badly in PSU's favor it was hard to hold much of a grudge. I should insert the disclaimer here that Frank tells me he got the call right, but I'm skeptical.

Anyway, I'm building to the point of this post, but I need to make one more diversion into another subject -- officiating in college football. I'm *so* glad that the Big Ten instituted instant replay. Let's just say I'm a bit of a fan of Penn State football. In recent years, there have been some horrendous, game-changing decisions by officials. If you are a college football fan at all, you probably remember a few years ago when Joe Paterno was being called senile because after a game with more than one egregious calls, he chased down a referee, spun him around by his shirt and gave him an earful on national TV. I was at that game and witnessed our side lose a game because of bad officiating after they worked ridiculously hard to overcome what in most games is an insurmountable deficit. When interviewed after the game, Joe complained about the officiating crew coming from Ann Arbor (the home of PSU's hated rival Michigan). Again, Joe got heat -- was he crazy? He was accusing the Big Ten of a major conspiracy, hiring refs with ties to one of the teams in the league! Well, if you are still skeptical, read this profile of "referee" Dick Honig, the ref Joe chewed out on that day. Why, it turns out our friend Dick is a UM alum, donor to the university, maintains a shrine to their stadium in his office, and according to this blog, his wife is a season ticket holder. Should we be shocked if he lets some bias creep into his calls? Joe's complaints led to instant replay, so the playing field has evened out a bit, but it is ridiculous how many replay calls get blown, too.

Finally, the point of this post. I can't watch the NBA any more. Even Shannon noticed, pointing out that I've gone this whole season without watching a game. The first game I watched was a Suns / Lakers round 1 playoff game. I thought about why I hadn't bothered to watch a game. The answer is partly that I've been really busy, partly that I got tired of my favorite team (the Suns) trading away or letting go via free agency every player I liked (Majerle, Barkley, Kidd, Finley, Nash...), and partly that there are other things I'm more interested in these days. However, while watching that game I realized a big part of my dissatisfaction is the officiating. The NBA is horrendous in terms of its officiating. The rules are arbitrary (I particularly loved before the circle under the basket was instituted the unwritten rule that they never called a charge if the defender was under the basket), the rules are arbitrarily enforced (Shaq knocks a guy out cold, and that person gets called for a foul for throwing his 10 lb head at Shaq's 100 lb arm), and you never know from game to game what to expect from the referees. King Kaufman's article in Salon today says essentially the same thing, specifically about how Shaq was officiated in the Heat/Nets series the other night. Anyway, about halfway into that Suns/Lakers game when Kobe threw an elbow into Raja Bell's face, I almost turned the game off. I knew that watching the game was sure to cause a spike in my blood pressure. Raja deserved the suspension he got for throwing Kobe to the floor, but I understand why he did it -- the refs were letting Kobe do whatever he wanted, so if they weren't going to blow the whistle whenever Raja got hit in the face, he was going to dare them to blow the whistle when he took a shot at Kobe. Sportswriters (or Twerps as Mikey likes to call them) get all up in arms anytime a conspiracy is aired about the NBA "fixing" a game so that one team or another wins, but I have to say if it is possible in any league, it is the NBA, and they have only themselves to blame for this perception. I'll probably watch a few more playoff games, and maybe the Finals if the Suns make it (or the Nets), but really, I could care less about the NBA and it is the officiating that changed me from a fan (hey, I paid something like $50 to actually attend a Wizards / Clippers game before either of them were playoff eligible) to caring little about the league at all.


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