Sunday, September 24, 2006

In lighter news...

Recently my job held an event at an NFL Stadium. Some buddies and I started wandering around when one called my name:

"Hey! You've GOT to see this!"

We walked underneath a big sign saying "Authorized Personnel Only" with Paul Tagliabue's signature on it (no Roger Goodell sign yet)...

and there I was, in the officials' locker room.

It was lovely...carpeted, with an exercise bike, eight lockers, and one shower with two shower heads. I couldn't help but wonder if two officials showered together at once.

But then...there it was. The urinal.

I didn't really have to go, but I made myself. Therefore, I can say it:

I have peed where Hochuli, Carey, and Kukar have peed.


My dad is a retired anesthesiologist. I don't remember the context of this conversation, but it has stuck with me through the years. I remember him saying this: "Here's why I make the big bucks. When someone else has a bad day at work, maybe they don't make a sale, or maybe they have to start a project over. When I have a bad day at work, someone goes into brain death."

For some reason, that's come to my mind as the issue of officials' accountability has come up again in the wake of the Oklahoma/Oregon fiasco. I think it's because, like physicians, when officials make errors, others suffer the consequences. (Of course, losing a game isn't as important as brain death, no matter what the University of Oklahoma's President David Boren might tell you.)

In any event, as a result of last week's situation and the hot conversation I've been having about it here, I keep thinking about what "accountability" for officials would or should look like.

This post is my first effort to figure that out.

What should happen to an official who makes an egregious, game changing error?

For me, it seems that there are two options.

One is this: whatever happens to a coach or player should happen to an official.

As best as I can tell, players who make one egregious error are not penalized. Let's look at some of the worst choices made by players in history:

Egregious errors:

Bill Buckner was a Red Sox in 1987 (although he was traded midway through the year). He even returned to the Red Sox for his last season in baseball, 1990.

After calling his infamous time out, Chris Webber was still the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft.

After his egregious mental error in the 1998 ALCS, Chuck Knoblauch still batted leadoff for the Yankees for the rest of the postseason. He didn't miss even one at-bat.

Exception to the rule: Grady Little. Although the story feels too simple and convenient to be sture, for argument's sake, we will accept that he was canned for the one managerial mistake of keeping Pedro Martinez in the game at the end of the 2003 ALCS.

But, for the most part, even the most egregious errors don't result in "sanctions" to players.

Let's suppose the player/coach errors were under more difficult circumstances. I'm thinking of, Mitch Williams and Donnie Moore giving up key home runs to Joe Carter and Dave Henderson, respectively, or of Jerome Bettis' big fumble in last year's AFC Divisional game that nearly cost the Steelers the game.

Results are similar here. Mitch Williams was traded right away, but the other two stayed on.

On the whole, there were no suspensions or "accountability" for these players' errors.

This might be because players' and coaches' "accountability" is built in. Each of these players/managers (except Bettis) lost big games because of their big errors. They've already paid the price. In my dad's metaphor, they're not anesthesiologists; they're salesmen. Their errors only hurt themselves and their teammates.

Historically, as best as I can tell, not much has happened to officials who have made bad errors. Don Denkinger and Rich Garcia's famous errors brought no sanctions...neither missed any games, and both worked World Series later in their careers.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that this is the way I feel it should be. For starters, every official in a playoff game has earned their trip. Each was a respected umpire who made a mistake. There is no guarantee that officials' human failings will be checked at the door just because it's the playoffs.

However, there is are instances of officials being penalized for mistakes as well. When three women's basketball officials made a pair of errors that might have helped Alabama score its last-second hoop to defeat UCLA in 1998, the NCAA issued this statement saying that mistakes were made and that the officials would no longer be used in the tournament. This also does not bother me. The NCAA basketball tournament also is a de facto tournament for officials...those with the best performances in early-round games (as judged by evaluators) move on to the next round. So dropping the crew that made the big mistake seems like a naturally occuring, organic consequence.

And, as has been beaten to death on this blog, the Oklahoma/Oregon officials were suspended (although one will work this weekend's USC/Arizona seems that they're too shorthanded to suspend everyone at once).

There is even a recent instance of a World Cup qualifying game being replayed because of an official's error, about which I had mixed feelings.

What's the best way of handling officials' errors?

I think it's instructive to look at what happens to doctors.

I talked to a doctor friend of mine the other day, and I asked him: what happens to a good doctor who makes a bad mistake?

First of all, there's the risk of a lawsuit. There have been some lawsuits against officials who have made calls that participants disagree with, most notably an Oklahoma high school football ejection last season (the Oklahoma Supreme Court rightly told the prosecution to stuff it--that they're not in the business of officiating football). I should hope that this never becomes par for the course in American officiating.

Barring that, the physician's mistake would go on file with the state. If there were a pattern, he would have trouble getting work due to higher insurance costs. If there were a pattern of errors, he/she would lose his/her job and be unlikely to find another.

It seems to me that this is the way it should be for officials as well. A good official who makes one mistake is still a good official. Ideally, all officials would be perfect. Since they're not, I don't think penalizing them for errors accomplishes anything other than sating the victims' blood-lust.

Of course, if there are repeated errors, that official needs to lose his/her job, as surely as anyone who repeatedly screws up at any job would lose it.

But one mistake? Let it go. It's a shame that it happened, just as it is with a physician's, pilot's, or air traffic controller's errors. But if an excellent doctor can be back at work the day after a mistake, I don't see why an excellent official can't.

Everybody wants to reduce mistakes. That's where the focus should be. As I see it, penalizing officials doesn't do anything to help the game.

Monday, September 18, 2006

There but for the grace of God...

I'd bet that every official's heart goes out to the officiating crew in the Oregon/Oklahoma game, who were suspended for a game for two critical errors down the stretch.

The calls do appear wrong on the replay--and we've all been there, just not on such a big stage.

Three questions:

1. Why should officials be suspended for errors when coaches and players are not?
2. Shouldn't the president of the University of Oklahoma spend some time focusing on education and not on voiding a result? Voiding a result?
3. Who believes that a death threat is a reasonable response to a football result? Hang in there, Gordon Riese. Don't go out like this. Get back in the booth.

Finally, here is something I have grown to believe: Nobody...and I mean nobody, including players...feels worse about a crucial blown call than the official who made it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bill Laimbeer blames ESPN for his personality deficiencies

From this story:

According to a report in Wednesday's Detroit Free Press, Laimbeer also said he'd refuse to wear his live microphone and cooperate with ESPN during Game 4.

"I just hear from our family and friends back home that, 'Boy, ESPN is killing you guys,'" Laimbeer told the newspaper. "'And [Nancy] Lieberman and Doris Burke are just trashing you left and right.' Not only me, but also some of our players on our ballclub."

Laimbeer told the Free Press that he would refuse to cooperate with the network for showing snippets of what he said to "create controversy or slam people."

"They're using their own tool to create their own story," Laimbeer said. "That shouldn't happen."

Laimbeer also said he wouldn't let cameras in the locker room for pregame routines and speeches.

"We're telling ESPN today to basically stick it," Laimbeer said.

Three observations:

1. Bill is upset that ESPN is "slamming people"? After what he's said about officiating? Officiating that called 28 Detroit fouls to 23 Sacramento fouls in Game 3? That called 42 fouls each on Sacramento and Detroit combined in the first two games?

Talk about a double standard. Laimbeer can slam anyone he wants, but will go all junior high on us when he perceives he's being slammed. Jaw-dropping stuff, this.

2. I guess I can go junior high level too: Bill, you are the only "tool" creating controversy here.

3. He's blaming ESPN for remarking on things he is saying. Who's responsible for what you say, Bill, you or ESPN? Have you gone to the Terrell Owens school of "blame the media for what I've said"?

I thought my 1980s hatred of Laimbeer was overblown teenage overreaction. I'm thinking it might not be...he's actually immatured with age.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Good link on "working officials"

An anonymous commenter below has offered a link to this very good article about the futility of "working officials."

Here's a snippet:

“I’ve been intrigued by this notion,” reflected Wellesley head coach Kathy Hagerstrom, “that we can yell at the officials, but they can’t yell at us. Officials can’t go to me as a coach and say, ‘What they heck were you thinking with that substitution?’ They can’t go to the kid and say, ‘That was a shot?’ Yet, I’m on the sidelines and if I choose to, I can berate the official in public.”

Well said, coach. But I'm not sure how we can eliminate such an intractable part of our culture, as ugly as it is.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

WNBA Finals observation

When the officials and the coaches are miked, I learn a lot about coach management at the highest level.

First, a funny exchange between Shock coach Bill Laimbeer and official Bob Trammell. Trammell had called a bump on Deanna Nolan.

Laimbeer: "Why'd you turn your mike off?"
Trammell: "So I can talk to you."
Laimbeer: "My mike's working, so they can hear everything we say."
Trammell: [laughs].
Laimbeer: "Okay. If we ever got a call like that, just a small body bump, it would be unbelievable. A cheap little foul like that one, and you gave it to them. Are you embarrassed?"
Trammell: "No."
Laimbeer: "You called hand check out there you wouldn't call earlier in the game? Double standard, eh?"

This is, of course, one of about 800 attacks Bill Laimbeer has made on the officials' evenhandedness. Yawn. Still a whining, idiotic caricature of himself after two decades.

But if you were watching 30 seconds later, you were witness to something just wonderful. Are you ready?

Stop the presses: Sportscasters defended officials.

Dave Pasch and Doris Burke were on the call.

Burke: "He's got the entire world against him."
Pasch: "Does the word 'paranoid' come to mind?"
Pasch: "At what point, though, does Detroit stop complaining about the calls and start worrying about playing basketball?"

Back to Laimbeer. He's just had another call go against his team.

Laimbeer: "We'll go off, we'll talk about it...We got stuck three games in a row, we'll talk about it...That's three games in a row that they get all the calls and we get nothing. That's embarrassing. Sometimes you'll find [or "in the finals"] it turns the other way."

Pasch: "They're down 15 not because of the officiating."
Burke: "That is correct. I mean, he [Laimbeer] admitted in the first half that they stopped playing on a number of occasions."

And then, the coup de grace...

Burke: "To me, that's ridiculous from Bill Laimbeer. These officials are not against him. You can question their calls, but don't question their integrity. To me, that's absurd."

Nice! Now, to be sure, Burke's questioning of their calls is sometimes off-base...for instance, she passionately wanted a travel on a play where I saw a player fall back onto her butt while the ball bounced right in front of her. You have to have the ball to travel, Doris. But I'll happily forgive that sin for the much greater good she did above.

Thanks, team. Any chance you can call Monday Night Football this year?

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