Friday, February 24, 2006

New Officiating Blog

A European colleague who calls himself bballref has started his own officiating blog, with the promising title of "First Talk, Then T." I've added him to the sidebar.

He puts me to shame in a couple of ways. First of all, English is the guy's second language, yet he's writing a blog in it. Also, he is a professional referee in his home country, which means he's doing games at a much higher level than I am...better basketball, more intensity, more pressure. I'll learn a lot from reading him, and it'll be a different experience from reading about my high school girls' games. In short, if you've liked what I've been doing, you'll like what Bballref is up to as well. And since my season just ended, and with PIAARef's blog fallen off the radar screen (I hope not permanently), this would be a great time to follow along with him.

I'm grateful that he has given me mad props, though, saying that I helped inspire him to write his blog. Indeed, looking at my Statcounter hits, Bballref has been a regular visitor (there's only one visitor from Europe, so I know your hometown, Bballref!). He's also called me "the first officiating blog ever." Not sure that's accurate (the soccer blogs at right are far older than I am), but I do think I can claim credit for the first basketball officiating blog in history.

And now that I've inspired some others to put their game logs on-line, I'm proud and glad to have started this up.

Best of luck, Bballref.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

We now move to the off-season...

where posting will become more sporadic--likely to happen only if I see something interesting or there's big officiating-related news.

Come visit every now and again. You never know what you'll find.

Season in review

I've made it to the end of my third varsity season, and my first since returning from my medically-imposed absence. I worked two-and-a-half days a week for the season, and wound up with the following totals for the year:

11 rec games (kids, not adults)
4 junior high games
2 freshman games
8 JV games
23 Varsity games of various school sizes.

Some of the Varsity games were of pretty good quality up until about New Year's. Then, as the games started getting more meaningful, the new guy (me) got some blowout matchups. That's not a complaint--it's just a fact.

In general, I feel like my blog reveals that I got more confident as the year went on. My early concerns about being a "lead ref" melted away as I had more games where I felt in charge. I hope to pick up where I left off last year.

Moving from general to specific, at the end of last season, I said that I'd be working on these four things this season:

1. Tailoring of uniform
2. 3-person mechanics review
3. Eyes in own area--no more poaching
4. Coach management

I'd say that I was successful in three out of these four challenges this year.

TAILORING OF UNIFORM: I did that. I think I looked pretty good. I even ordered some beltless pants...but they were loose, so I need to buy one of those internal belts to keep the pants up.

3-PERSON MECHANICS REVIEW: Every 3-man game I did up until mid-January, I wrote how I wasn't yet comfortable in 3-man. Right about then, I stopped writing that. I think the little bit of experience I gained this year really helped--a lot. I'm still making errors, especially on fouls, but I'm learning that everyone is doing that as we go back and forth between 2-man and 3-man games. Another year will make things even better for me.

NO MORE POACHING: This is the one that needs work. I'm not a terrible poacher, but as lead, I'm still reaching across the key. This must stop in 06/07.

COACH MANAGEMENT: Last year, I felt really uncomfortable in this area. For whatever reason, this year was a lot better. No technical fouls on head coaches this year--in fact, I was never terribly close to one. I felt like coaches were approaching me with respect this year, and I have never felt that way before.

Why would this be? Some possibilities:

1. I'm better than I used to be, so there's less whining. (I don't think this is true.)
2. They're still whining, but it's not getting to me anymore. (I also don't think this is true.)
3. Coaches are more polite. (That's a funny one. Stop pulling my leg.)
4. I'm better at communication.

I think it's the fourth one. I've developed a technique, which is to respond if the coach asks a question, and to make my response brief and factual. I've learned that coaches are usually fine with that, even if they disagree. Occasionally, they'll continue, but I didn't have a single coach that ignored my warning this year (I gave maybe 4 or 5 all year). It worked well.

I did give a technical foul to an assistant coach this year, but on reflection, I probably shouldn't have done that. The guy deserved it--barking pretty badly after I'd warned him--but I inadvertently undercut my partner, who was closer to the coach at the time. Live and learn.

So what am I working on for next year:

1. Mechanics. I'm too loosey-goosey, and since I can't use my voice, I need to overcompensate with perfect, crisp, confident motions. I will have perfect posture on the floor and exude confidence.
2. Screens. I want to get those rules cold, and enforce them confidently.
3. NO MORE CALLING ACROSS THE KEY AS LEAD unless it's an egregious miss by a partner.
4. Shooters. I can't let my eyes follow the shot. More than one evaluator caught me doing this, and it's inexcusable.

I don't want to get too into my evaluations, but I hope to take a fairly decent step up on the varsity list. I don't think I'm in the top half yet (I have a three-year plan to get there), but I should take a pretty big jump up.

It was a fine year. I'm stoked for more.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Game Log 2/16/2006: Season finale

Small schools tonight: not a lot of talent. The game had few fouls and not a lot of challenge, and I was evaluated (got a good one, I think). It was the same evaluator I had for an earlier game, and I was happy to see him (his evaluations are always insightful). He was happy to see me sit down an assistant coach, but he says I missed an egregious double dribble (I take him at his word, but I can't remember it to save my life).

What I'll remember most from this game was the way things worked with a senior. The home called our attention to a kid wearing a knee brace. He told us she'd blown out her MCL in the first game of the year and hadn't played since. To honor her on senior night, the coach said that she would be starting and only playing a minute or so. A little bit of a Nykeshia Sales deal. That's fine with us. The first time down the floor, she gets the ball in front of me. She takes a dribble in and shoots. Swish!

Problem: She walked first.

I called it. I felt like a first-class ass, but it was a walk, and I can't ignore that in a 0-0 game. I called it.

She left at the first whistle.

The game was actually quite close, which I didn't expect, but the home team took a double-digit lead with a few minutes left in the game. The coach put her back in there. She got the ball.

What followed...well, I stand by it.

She shot and missed...and although there was a very little contact (no way I call that under normal circumstances), I called the foul to get the kid on the line. It felt weird, since I called it late, and since I've never done anything like that before, but I felt it wasn't a bad thing to do, especially since I'd waved off the earlier hoop.

She missed both free throws.

Then, as she ran to the defensive end of the floor, she took a pretty good spill. Everyone in the joint gasped audibly. She popped up--no harm done--but the coach, probably scared his good intentions had hurt the student, yanked her from the game.

Anyway, a good day overall for me. And a good season, which I'll blog about over the weekend.

THINGS I DID WELL: Coach management
THINGS TO WORK ON: Game awareness, a couple of brain locks
NEXT: I may go to camp in August.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Game Log 2/14/2006: Buzzer beater

Two junior high games today. The first was quiet: seventh graders, relatively unskilled...jsut a matter of letting them learn a little. The eighth grade game, while not a lot more in terms of skill, had a heck of an ending.

White led by one with 9 seconds left. Red got the ball on a jump ball. They took it downcourt. White's defense was way, way too aggressive. Rather than having their players lay back a little, they had a kid head out beyond the three point line and push. I called it--I'd called it all day. "PUSH! White 15!" This was highly unpopular among the home fans, but it was too much to overlook. I heard nothing from the coach.

So Red goes to the line, down by one, with 3.2 seconds left. She misses the first. I'm feeling awful for this kid. She misses the second.

Red rebounds and puts it back with .6 seconds left for the win.

Awesome. And, needless to say, I got the heck out of that gym.

THINGS I DID WELL: Confidence/assertiveness in tough situation.
THINGS TO WORK ON: I'm yelling too much again. I'm ball-watching in boring games.
NEXT UP: I finish my regular season on Thursday night with a small-school Varsity matchup.

Friday, February 10, 2006

It was only a matter of time...

The butthead fan in the front row (it's good to know that even Christian schools produce butthead fans) positions himself right at the FT line extended, to be more easily heard by the officials all night. He included this among his many chestnuts:

"Look! It's Bill Leavy!"

He doesn't think I'd take that as a compliment. But I do. The highest-rated white hat in the game? Cool.

Game Log 2/10/2006: Not a great night

The game was uneventful. The winning team, #1 in the state and undefeated in its conference, won by a bucketload.

I feel like the game went well for me, but I was feeling a little sick, and was honestly worried about making the floor for game time. I did. And amazingly, once I started running, I felt better.

I was evaluated...but by an evaluator I've "dinged" (or asked not to evaluate me). It's not that I think he's out to get me, it's that I don't trust his judgement...he's said things in the past that I know to be untrue. So I'll have to send an email and ask that this evalaution not count.

THINGS I DID WELL: Coach management, game management late, didn't let blowout get out of control

THINGS TO WORK ON: Evaluator says I'm looking up at shot as lead. If that's true, I've got to stop it.

NEXT UP: Junior high games on Tuesday.

Great article on Super Bowl plays

The NFL and retired official Jim Tunney see this as I see it.

The next step, as I've said before, is to have Tunney or another respected retired official in the studio to explain these calls as they come up in games, or at the very least have him on call at home.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Game Log 2/8/2006: A great evaluation

Blowout game tonight--23 point victory by White over Red. I felt good out there...was getting rotations better than I have, felt good about the calls, felt in control of the blowout game late without hugely cracking down (used a LOT of voice to get Red to ease up on illegal screens late that were moving-but-not-vicious).

I'll remember tonight more for the evaluation than for the game. It was the best evaluation I've ever had. I don't know that my score will be too high (he wrote "You can be good at this--just keep working," so I'm not optimistic), but he gave me a lot of really great feedback.

Case in point:

Late in the blowout, I'm C running downcourt on a fast break with the ball on my side. Red is sliding down at the side of the paint. I've got my eye on her...refereeing the defense. I can see Red salivating for a player control foul. White goes up. BARELY grazes Red, if at all. Red goes down as hard as if she'd been shot. I violently shake my head (dammit, I HAVE to stop doing that.) It's a big flop. I give it a no-call. Yeah, I know the rule is that it should be a T, but late in a blowout that felt like adding insult to injury. I've got nothing. Let White take her shot (which she missed, alas).

My evaluator said "You had a rough play with two players on the floor [in reality, I think it was one]. You need a call there, especially in a blowout game."

I told him I had the play stone cold. Had the defense. Flop.

He suggested I call a block, as he put it, "to penalize the non-basketball play." The player on the ground is endangering her opponent's safety by going to the ground, and that justifies the block call.

"So what do I do if Red's coach complains?"

He says I tell him: "Coach, did you know the penalty for a flop this year is a technical foul? I called the block instead." Then watch while Red stops flopping, and if they don't, penalize it with the T.

Fair enough.

Refs who read this, do you agree with the evaluator? I'm intrigued.

THINGS I DID WELL: Better with 3-man. Felt very confident. "Let the athletes make athletic plays," the evaluator said. Call selection.

THINGS TO WORK ON: Less loosey-goosey with mechanics...crisp them up. Watch rotations...don't go too late. Protect the shooter--evaluator said my eyes are going up with the shot. Stay parallel to end line as lead to clearly communicate to my partners when I pick up the ball.

NEXT UP: Friday night. The #1 mid-sized school team in the state hosts a sub-.500 opponent. Ugh. Gotta make sure nobody gets hurt...but still, it'll be fun to ref such a good team.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Super Bowl

I don't get it. I swear I don't.

When I finished watching Super Bowl XL, here's what I thought:

--Darrell Jackson pushed off. It was light, but it was right in front of the official.
--The Roethlisberger TD was so close that I'd have been fine with either call, and neither call would have been reviewable (although I wish the head linesman had either stuck with his original dead-ball signal or gone with the TD at first).
--Didn't like the low block call against Hasselbeck, although the 15 yards on that weren't nearly as punitive as throwing the damn INT in the first place. No major impact on that one.
--Didn't like the holding call against Locklear.

And, more importantly,

--The Seahawks just didn't show up offensively. Not just Jerramy Stevens, but Jackson dropped a couple (and didn't get his second foot down in bounds in the first half when he easily could have for a TD), and D.J. Hackett (dropped a big one in the end zone that would have rendered the pass interference irrelevant...yeah, it would have been a tough catch, but it did hit him in the hands, and in the Super Bowl, that's a play he has to make). Punts went almost exclusively into the end zone. Two (admittedly long) field goals were missed. Drives were blown. In other words, I left convinced that the Seahawks had a far worse game than the refs did.

So when I heard whining on talk radio after the game, I just figured it was drunken dudes.

But I've heard a number of otherwise reasonable people talking about incompetence or, worse, impropriety. It could be that I live surrounded by Seahawks fans, and that it's much easier to vent one's spleen at the striped shirt than at the Seahawks' own many errors.

It simply wasn't that bad.

This post at an officiating board I frequent breaks down the three biggest complaints. I'm borrowing the pictures from it.

For starters, let's look at these pictures of pass interference. They're in chronological order.

Make these bigger if you can, or visit them on the officiating board where they're larger, but they show a player getting a critical advantage with a push. The defender is knocked back a couple of feet by the push...he goes from well off the "A" to on it. Additionally, Jackson is using him to change direction. Given that the ball is already in the air and fairly close to them at this time (note the players in the background are facing them), this move is the difference between a touchdown is not. Is it a tremendous push? No. Is it a tremendous advantage? I think it's enough of an advantage that it made the difference between Jackson catching it and not catchign it. Would Jackson have caught the ball without pushing off? No. Did the Steelers' Hope have a chance to defend the play because of the push-off? No. That's how I saw the play from the get-go. Honest. At the time, it didn't even occur to me that it would be controversial.

Let me quote my brother, with whom I watched the game. He's a non-official, so he's not biased like me. He says, I think reasonably, that if this play and the Roethlisberger TD had gone the other way, there would be people in Pittsburgh screaming their heads off about crappy refs and the fix being in. I totally agree. Can anyone convince me otherwise?

Anyway. I still don't like the holding call, but I understand it a little better after looking at this picture...the top one especially. Again, go to the officiating board if you want to see the full-sized version. Or better yet...

I just watched the live version of the play again. If you still have the game TiVoed, check it out.

Straight up: At full speed, it looks like holding.

The replays don't show it nearly as well as the live, original version does. It looks like it could be holding, and it even looks like Haggans had a shot at a sack were it not for Locklear's hold/nonhold. Check out the live, full-speed version, and it looks a LOT like Locklear hooks Haggans' arm and very nearly takes him to the ground. Of course, nobody's shown that play at full speed again...we just got the slo-mo at one angle. I'm still not convinced it's holding, but I'm a lot more comfortable with the flag now that I've seen the play again. Watch it live again. The technology actually let us down this time.

Now, Hasselbeck's block below the waist: bad call. Oh well. Didn't get 'em all.

A word about Michaels and Madden. They were eminently reasonable. I'm imagining what Joe Theismann would have done at this game, and it very easily could have made me even more homicidal than I normally feel towards him. Madden saying "If there was a hold, it wasn't in that picture?" Fine. Madden saying "That wasn't what you normally call a push-off" which Seahawks fans are quoting left and right this week? Reasonable. But he also said "He pushes off with his right hand five feet from the official." I didn't feel they were ref-bashing at all.

But the free-for-all that's started since then is ridiculous. I get the sense that, since this Super Bowl didn't have any real excitement or great storylines, they've made one up.

In any event, I keep hearing all of these "We need to do something!!!!"

My question: WHAT? Fire everybody? That likely won't work. Change the requirements for SB officiating? They're quite strict and performance-based already. Make officials full-time (what would they do the rest of the year? ref in Europe?)? I'm open to plans to improve officiating, always.

But does anyone have a plan that will work? I'm listening.

Anyway, one final word: In my (non-officiating) line of work, I get a lot of people who complain. They want to blame me for either their own shortcomings or bad breaks. I hate that. This is a toxic part of our culture that sucks.

Mike Holmgren and the whiny media have added to that culture this week.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Game Log 2/3/06: Runnin' with the big kids

The game I was looking forward to didn't turn out so hot--about a 30-point victory for the state-ranked team.

It's funny...this is my first big-school game of the year, and there really is a big differrence in atmosphere. Maybe it was the large school or maybe it's that the home team is state-ranked, but even in a blowout, there was more intensity in the building than usual. I feel like I didn't show any nerves, though, and felt a lot less than I formerly would have.

My partners and I were on the same page for more or less the whole night. There was some contact, but we felt the kids were playing through it. Maybe a few more fouls on Green than on White (7-3 in the first half, and 2-1 in the third quarter). When I called the first foul on White in the second half, the coach gave a bit of a sarcastic "Wow! You called a foul on White!" I gave her a quick "Take it easy, coach." She said "Four fouls in the game! You've got to help us out!" Trailing by 25 at that point...I cut the coach a break. Turned out to be a good idea, as I didn't hear from her again.

What I'll remember from this game is the way I dealt with the other coach, however...White's coach. I was working tonight with the #1 official in the association--a woman a coach will always love to see--and another first-year varsity guy. I tossed, which means I was the guy talking to the coaches in pre-game. Add that to the fact that I was the unknown quantity, and the coach decided that I was the guy he'd pick on tonight. He did constant chirping (never rude, but seldom correct) for the first quarter--and I don't think he was saying anything to the other two officials.

It was clear early on this needed to stop, and I stopped it early in the second quarter. He didn't like a foul (one of the three in the first half on his team!) I called on his girl that, from his angle, probably looked like a ticky-tack. I was right there, and I saw his girl give a light but discernible push against Red before grabbing the ball. I might have been the only guy to see it, but in my view, that light push was the reason she stole the ball, and I therefore couldn't let it go. The switch brought me in front of his bench, where he complained. Again. I set him straight, taking a different approach from usual. I didn't go straight to "No more!" Instead, since he wasn't being rude, I said: "Coach, you've got to pick your spots. I can't have you talking to me about every single call. Ease up." I didn't hear from him again all night. He knew I meant business. Now, to be fair, it was a 30-point game, so it's tough to say whether it was the point spread that shut him up or me, but he was quiet even before his team blew it open in the third quarter.

There was a weird stretch in the fourth quarter as the game started to get a little uglier and we had to jump in with a lot more whistles. I happened to be C opposite the table. There were very no rotations for about 6 minutes of basketball...for whatever reason, both teams were taking the ball down the table-side. This left me with very little to watch until rebounding started. The net result is that my partners must have called the first 10-12 fouls of the third quarter while I had next to no whistles. It was bizarre. I felt like I was just along for the ride, but it was just a coincidence. There was nothing for me to call.

I was evaluated tonight. His evaluation was both accurate and fair. I got mega props for getting the white coach back into his box when he strayed out (they say nobody's enforcing that, but I did!). I was told that we didn't call enough hand checks early. As a crew, we felt like the hand checks were either not hard enough or very brief, and not impacting play...but upon reflection, I agree with the evaluator. The game would have been better if we'd nipped the hand checks in the bud. I was also told I missed some push-offs in front of me on in-bounds plays. I'll commit to looking at those. He also wanted some 3-second calls early. Fair enough...I'll focus on those three for the rest of the season.

THINGS I DID WELL: Coach management, contained nerves at bigger game than usual
THINGS TO WORK ON: Fast 5-second count, hand checks, 3 seconds, in-bound push-offs

NEXT UP: Another big-school game on Wednesday night.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Game Log 2/1/2006: Nobody got hurt.

To nobody's surprise, White won by 50. It was 20-2 at one point.

Our job: Be sure nobody gets hurt. Call the obvious. Get home.

It was a good game...good communication, good crew integrity. The third quarter had a chance of getting ugly--I felt like there were may have been some fouls on shooters we missed (and we includes me)--but it turned out all right in the end. One conversation with the Blue coach about hand-checking by White. What's weird about that is that, at that point in the game (late first or early second quarter), just by luck of the draw, I had almost never been following Blue up the floor--so they weren't my handchecks to call. I guess one of my partners overheard, though, since he got a hand-check on the very next play.

One brain freeze--3-man related. Blue had the ball out of bounds with 7 seconds on the shot clock. I'm C opposite the table. I make good eye contact with my partner. I point at my eye: the signal for "look up." He sees the shot clock, but doesn't point at me. In 2-man, the shot clock violation goes to trail. I therefore thought he had the call. But I had the 3-man, the shot clock violation goes to the sideline official opposite the table. So the buzzer went for about two seconds, Blue shot the ball and made it, and then my partner weekly blew his whistle and got the shot clock violation. Damn. That one was mine. But it's not an error I'll make again.

Speaking of shot clocks, I reset one. Blue launched a three in the second quarter with three on the shot clock. As trail, I saw the ball graze the rim--I swear I did. Black got the rebound and was stuck on the baseline. The shot clock didn't reset. So I blew the play dead and said "The ball nicked the rim. Reset the shot clock." The coach said "No! That was way short!" I confidently replied: "It got the rim, coach." After the game, I asked my partner who was C about the play. He said it was an airball. I guess I won't do that in the future unless I'm 100% the table to see that and only overturn egregious errors, which this wasn't.

We were evaluated tonight, and my evaluator was way less hard on me than I would have been. He didn't even mention the shot clock mistake. He wants me to take a step or two out onto the floor as C, and he caught me bailing in mid-rotation a couple of times (which I should do on a shot, but not when the ball suddenly reverses, I have now learned). I also need to close on calls more...I'm taking a step or two in on distant calls as C and T, and he wants me to take 4 or 5 steps. All of these are perfectly legitimate criticisms. Regardless of what my score winds up being, this evaluator can evaluate me anytime. I learned from him, and will be better next time.

THINGS I DID WELL: Game management, handled rotations well as C and T
THINGS TO WORK ON: Some lingering 3-man errors, get on floor as C, close on calls, don't bail on rotations when there's a reversal of the ball
NEXT UP: An awfully good game on Friday night. A state-ranked team with one loss on the year against a team that's well over .500. I expect the state-ranked team to win, but I don't expect a blowout, and the basketball will be better than anything I've seen all year. I'm looking forward to this one's better than a first-year varsity official usually gets.

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