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.


At 4:09 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

BR, nobody cares about your feelings, the player's feelings or those of the coach. We care about your performance on the field, just as we care about an athelete's performance or that of a coach. When an athelete or a coach screws up, they tend to lose games. That's their penatly. But what happens when officials screw up? The public perception is that most officials remain unaccountable.

And this is only going to get worse unless officials begin to take advantage of the technology that we already have. If I can tell if an official blows a call while sitting in my living room over a thousand miles away, why can't the officials on the field come to the same conclusion?

Death threats are just lame. And the OU president has many more productive was that he can spend his time.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

1. Officials on the field see the play once, and at full speed. You see it multiple times, from multiple angles, and slowly. That's why they don't reach the same conclusion. The replay official blowing the call is much more disturbing than others.

2. Empathy, Spoon. Exercise it. Care about feelings more, not less, and don't brag about how little you care.

3. Would you favor suspension for any official's mistake? When do you believe suspension should take place?

At 7:05 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

Ok, BP, let's make a trade: I'll exercise more empathy for officials if your fellow officials exercise more flexibility when it comes to reviewing the calls they make. I'm not going to make suggestions as to how to accomplish this, but I do know that we have the technology and the means to satisfy everyone.

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

Good. Empathy for all human beings at all times is an unequivocal good. We can't turn it off just because someone is wearing stripes, although everybody seems to do that.

Let's start here:

Should Oklahoma be awarded Saturday's game? Should the result be voided?

And I've got my mind on what exactly "accountability" should look like for officials. I may post on that later.

At 7:44 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

I eagerly await your thoughts. And, TRP, I have plenty of empathy for all of humanity. I'm an actor, remember? That's what we do!

As for the OU game? "Nurtz to them," as my Mom would've said. Under the current system there is no redress, so the result should stand. Do I think this is fair? No, but then much of life isn't fair.

My complaint about officialdom is the same complaint I have with the legal and medical professions: an active resistance to employing technology to improve their profession.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...


Always love debating with you, and baby, it is ON.

First, a juxtapositioning of two of your statements, given without comment:

"BR, nobody cares about your feelings, the player's feelings or those of the coach."


"I have plenty of empathy for all of humanity."

And then you say this:

"My complaint about officialdom is the same complaint I have with the legal and medical professions: an active resistance to employing technology to improve their profession."


Who the heck is actively resisting? Do you have one scintilla of evidence to back this up?

Instant replay has been instituted at some level in three of the four major pro sports. The fourth, baseball, uses technology to grade umpires' performance in calling balls and strikes. In some leagues, basketball officials are using special whistles that stop the clock, thus elminating lag time. For years, tennis has used an electric eye to determine close line calls on the serve. They even used replay in the Minnesota high school basketball and hockey playoffs. Every official I know, from the lowest levels to the pros, welcomes the opportunity to get it right. The leagues might not want to spend the money, but if you could convince me that putting a microchip in a ball would somehow aid my ability to call a basketball game, I'd say do it. If there's resistance, it's from the leagues who might not want to pay for it. The vast majority of officials want to get it right, and will take any help necessary to do so.

Your assertion is wild and unbacked. It's also wrong.

Also, the problem in the Oklahoma/Oregon game wasn't a lack of technology. There was technology--replay. But the human being running it made errors. How would more technology have prevented those errors?

And while I'm ranting against you, what's a TRP? You threw in a reference I don't understand.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

Cool your jets, BR. I appear to have hit a nerve; if so, my apologies.

If there's resistance, it's from the leagues who might not want to pay for [technological innovation].

Point taken. But I stand by my observations about the legal and medical professions.

I didn't see the OU game so I was unaware that it was "operator error" (as we refer to it in my business). Technological improvement can reduce the chance of operator error. So I stand by my assertion that technology can improve officating.

Maybe the solution is to just give up things like HDTV, instant replay, that silly overhead field camera, the "Mac Cam", etc. Because if I, a mere fan, can tell that a official blew a call from my living room when the official apparently cannot, there is a problem. Can we at least agree on that?

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...


No nerve hit, no apology needed. I'm not upset, just passionate. Game on!

"Because if I, a mere fan, can tell that a official blew a call from my living room when the official apparently cannot, there is a problem. Can we at least agree on that?"

Sort of. You, a mere fan, have multiple angles and slow-motion. The guys on the field have one look. You have no pressure on you; they have immense pressure on them. You're stationary; the officials have to move into the best position possible (which isn't always good). So that fact that you can get it right from your recliner isn't evidence of a serious problem; it's a bloody obvious fact. The fact is that it's a lot EASIER to officiate as a fan.

The fact that the replay official missed the call is a lot more troubling, both to me and to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who I actually haven't minded through all of this.

If you still disagree--if you believe there is a crisis in officiating--I highly recommend that you sign up to become a football official. This isn't's honest. There are openings everywhere, and even doing some peewee ball on Saturdays really opens your eyes to the challenges of all of this. Even if it doesn't, it'll make you a few bucks of vacation money and give you some exercise. Plus, you'd be good at it, with your passionate love of justice, your love and knowledge of football, and your acting background (presence is a huge necessity in an official). Here's the website to get you started:

You never responded to my request for evidence that officials are refusing technological advances that would help them. Are you dropping that ball?

At 10:18 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

Are you dropping that ball?

What?! Didn't you see the replay?? That ball was slathered in bacon grease and the smell intoxicated me with its lovely vapors thus inhibiting my ability to hold onto said ball.

Hmmm... bacon grease...

You pointed out that I should have directed my ire at the leagues for not embracing technology to improve officiating. I have no evidence to bolster that conclusion, but I think that the fact that I have multiple views of the game and the replay officials only have a limited number speaks volumes.

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous bloggingref said...


Not true. Replay officials have the same views you do.

Evidence from yesterday's San Jose Mercury News:

"Equipment in the replay booth also has been called into question. Riese told The Associated Press on Monday that he wasn't able to freeze plays on the replay equipment. The Pac-10 Web site says a TiVo-based system is used during the replay process.

Hansen did not refer to any technical malfunctions when announcing the suspensions.

The Big 12 has spent thousands of dollars to outfit each school with digital recording systems from XOS Technologies.

Each Big 12 press box includes a box that records the TV broadcast feed and a backup TiVo-based system. Finally, a VHS machine records everything the replay official sees.

The NCAA does not mandate where a conference purchases its replay equipment. The Pac-10 and Big 12 are both listed as clients on XOS' company Web site. The ACC, Big Ten and Southeastern conference have equipment from DV Sports, a Pittsburgh company."

They see what you see. TiVo doesn't lie. So your statement of "I have multple views and replay officials have a limited number" is simply false.

I do hope that conferences are training their replay guys in usage of TiVo. If Riese couldn't freeze the tape, that's a problem. It seems to me one should just be able to hit pause.

In the end, I think it's clear that we agree wholeheartedly that bacon is tasty.

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Chuck Elias. I'm a basketball official and I read this blog every once in while. I'd like to contribute just two thoughts on this whole issue. Keep in mind that I'm NOT a football official and I did NOT see the game or even the play(s) in question.

1) There is a very real possibility that the replay official did not have the necessary feed from ABC to review the play as well as he could have. Based on what was available to him (bad angles, maybe only one camera shot?), it's very likely that he could not overturn the decision on the field. This is a problem with the technology, not with the officiating.

2. Once again, the best thing to happen to sports is also the worst thing -- TV. TV pours money into these games, gives them greater exposure and boosts their popularity. That's great. But TV also shows every flaw of every participant. If this game hadn't had any TV coverage, this controversy would've died 30 minutes after the game was over.

Even 20 years ago, controversies like this (at least in college) didn't exist, except in the most eggregious cases (like Colorado scoring on 5th down). But all this obsession and suspensions over a pass interference call? It's a joke, honestly.

Video is a great tool, even for officials. I regularly video the basketball games that I officiate so that I can see where I need to improve. But when that video is available to send to ESPN and/or the conference HQ, it can also make a "game" much more important than it should be.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

Hi, Chuck--thanks for commenting.

The San Jose article says that Big XII officials use a TiVo and the broadcast of the game. I assumed similar technology existed for the Pac 10--perhaps erroneously.

As the original post here shows, I have nothing but sympathy (indeed, empathy, since we've all blown a few) for the officials and the replay officials. I don't think the sky is falling.

I totally agree with you that replay makes life far, far more difficult for officials, since it almost inevitably leads to Spoon's question of "Why can't they get it right on the field if I get it right at home?" That's unfair to the refs on the field--and, depending on the technology available, to the official in the booth, too.

But if the booth official saw what the rest of the US saw on replay, he simply missed it. That's not an attack, it's simply a fact, and I don't think it's hurtful to officials to state that fact in context.

Good to have you here, Chuck, and comment anytime.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

Thanks for the input, Chuck! And keep up the good work!

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Joe said...

TRP, you make an assertion early on which I very much disagree with...

1. Why should officials be suspended for errors when coaches and players are not?

Players, at least, can be benched by their coaches, for one error or a pattern of errors. (Assuming, of course, they can get it past the owner or boosters.) A good coach uses this power as a motivational tool when it will help player development or team performance.

(Coaches, of course, are not really suspended, but frequently get fired for their mistakes, and even those of the players.)

There's a perception that refs want to be seen as unassailable. It's easy to jump from that belief to one that refs don't think they need to improve, either. Referee associations need to do a lot of outreach about their programs for review and improvement, and yes, sanction.

If it were up to me, I'd do something like encourage blogs where refs talk about spending their free time going to workshops to improve their skills. I think that'd be a great start. :-)

(PS: I'll cede that the second stereotype - not improving - is false for almost all refs, and the first - being bulletproof - is false for many. Then again, what's the one song you can't play in a baseball park?)

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...


What's this TRP I keep hearing about? Is it some drug, like PCP?

I'm trying to get my mind around "sanction." A ref who repeatedly makes mistakes will lose his/her job as surely as a player or coach will. The difference is how much easier it is to extend some-ref-who-you-saw-screw-up's sins to the conclusion that every ref sucks.

Another key difference is that a ref's mistakes hurt other people's goals. This doesn't mean the ref doesn't feel bad about it...I sincerely believe the ref actually feels worse than the players do...but the fact is that people feel an injustice when someone without a direct stake in the outcome has an unfortunate role in that outcome.

Your idea--that people need to know about how much work refs put in and how seriously the job is taken--might help. But it won't be much. Our culture is set up that the ref is evil. Literally evil; no other way to put it.

Joe, you'd be a good ref too.

Of course, there are transportation issues...

At 5:08 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

Our culture is set up that the ref is evil.

Oh, I don't think that's true. The ref is one of our collective straw men, nothing more. You are the sacrifice upon the altar of our sporting life. That's not fair, nor is it evil.

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Joe said...


You don't work on the TransCanada Pipeline? My mistake.

Sure. Refs have the problem that they're really only visible when either they screw up, or the call goes against your team. And if you try to change that, you're into "showboating ref" territory, which nobody wants.

Similarly, public sanctions against employees is a pretty volatile tool and one to use with the utmost care. In particular, it would be a huge risk to issue them mid-season. (Although the flip side is that the playoffs are a perfect time to talk about how expert crews are picked for those games, and what kind of feedback is given to those who don't make it.)

I feel like refs are seen as an obstacle (instead of the embodiment of the rules) in part because their process is opaque. A high-profile effort to communicate the transparency of the review and development system, will, in fact, help change the culture.

Slowly, and you'll never reach the most rabid fans, but it would be a huge step to get some neutral folks to start saying "you know, I read that ref's blog, and..."

At 6:14 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

I don't think it's an either/or (I originally typed "evil/or," and I actually like that better). The ref is a classic straw man: the guy who you pretend is against you to make yourself feel better. That straw man is made into an evil man. That's why we're yelled at not just for incompetence, but for bias. Bias from one who should be unbiased (a judge, a teacher, a ref) is evil. But I'm accused of it just about every time I take a court with two teams I have no personal interest in whatsoever.

I think we're both right. The ref is an evil straw man in our society.

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...


Dude! We totally agree! I've ALWAYS called for more transparency, more refs in the media (not less), a ref back at the studio to refer to when a call is missed (or, worse, perceived as missed), more knowledge, more. That'd help this whole damn thing. Not solve it, but help.

And yes, if everybody read me, we'd be holding hands, singing Kumbaya, buying each other Cokes, establishing peace in the Middle East, etc.

At 6:59 AM, Blogger HoopRef said...

Joe said, "If it were up to me, I'd do something like encourage blogs where refs talk about spending their free time going to workshops to improve their skills. I think that'd be a great start. :-)"

To that end, here's my contribution. These are the camps that I attended over the last 7 years in order to improve as a basketball official:

1999: Hoop Mountain (MA) $200

2000: Hoop Mountain (MA) $200

2002: Nationwide Referee Camp (MA) $350
5-Star Referees Camp (PA) $500

2003: Nunn-Better Officials Camp (FL) $525
NJ Basketball Officials Camp (NJ) $350

2004: MAAC Tryout (NY) $50
NJ Basketball Officials Camp (NJ) $350
5-Star Referees Camp (PA) $500
Phil Robinson Pro-Am Camp (FL) $525

2005: MAAC Tryout (NY) $50
NJ Basketball Officials Camp (NJ) $350
5-Star Referees Camp (PA) $500

2006: Ivy League Tryout (NY) $100
MAAC Tryout (NY) $50
NJ Basketball Officials Camp (NJ) $350
5-Star Referees Camp (PA) $500

If you do the math, I've spent over $5,000 of my own money to improve and get a chance to work in some higher-level games. If you look at any Division 1 referee east of the Mississippi who is under 40 years old, they've ALL done this.

This is the only way to get hired by a Division 1 conference these days. 20 years ago, it was different; but things change. And in 20 years, it may change again. But right now, this is the process. You have to go to camps so the supervisor can see you work. You have to impress him/her and then you probably have to try-out with other high-quality refs who also want a spot in the conference.

Typically, 80-100 officials attend a try-out and about 5 are hired. Those 5 will probably get about 5 games each. And you're only hired for one year at a time. Screw it up, and bye-bye. (At least, for the new guys.)

Hope that helps shed some transparency on the process!

At 7:38 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

Thanks, hoopref!

See, I don't think you should have to spend your hard-earned dough to improve your officiating skillz, or at least not as much of your dough. Why shouldn't the organization that you work under pick up some of that cost? What that says to me is that you and BR care more about officiating than the various and sundry leagues around the country.

Speaking as a fan, that's just unacceptable.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger HoopRef said...

Tommy said, "Why shouldn't the organization that you work under pick up some of that cost?"

Which organization would that be, Tommy? 99.9% of basketball officials in the U.S. (with the exception of the 120 or so NBA/WNBA refs) are independent contractors. We are not employed by the colleges where we work; we are not "employed" by the conferences. We generally represent ourselves and work for ourselves, contracting out our services to whoever will pay us.

If I were a self-employed computer consultant, for example, would IBM pay for me to attend a continuing education conference? I don't think so. And why should they? I don't work for them. If I want to improve my computer knowledge and skills, that's my responsibility.

Also remember that I'm talking about the process leading up to being hired. Once you get a contract to work for a conference, there may be "subsidized" training, I don't know. That would depend on the various conferences, obviously. But no organization is going to pay for someone's education with the hope that someday they'll be ready to take a job with that organization.

Would I like it if the Big 10 sent me a letter saying, "we'd like to fly you out to our training camp, house you and feed you for a week b/c we think that you'll be ready to work our conference in 5-7 years"? Absolutely. But is that reasonable? Not even remotely.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...


Welcome aboard. Comment anytime.

That's a LOAD of money and time. I'm impressed with your level of commitment. I hope the MAAC and Ivy League results were positive, and if not, that you'll hook on somewhere in the near future.

I have no plans or desire to officiate at the college level. (I like my day job too much, and the travel would prevent me from doing that day job well, if at all.) But I have been to three camps in my last four years of officiating (only taking a year off to get married). Two were local; one was more regional. All were focused on HS mechanics. Total cost to me: about $350, but only because the middle camp was picked up by a scholarship from my local assocation. (It would have jacked the price up to about $650).

To add to Spoon's suggestion that we be paid, I agree wtih HoopRef--it's not feasible. My officials' association is non-profit. They take the money from school districts and pass it on to me as an independent contractor (taking a few bucks, of course, to hire an assignor, set up a few meeting spaces and exactly four scholarships). To train us all at the high school level, they'd have to take more money from the schools. And that would reveal priorities worse than those of the president of Oklahoma University.

I WANT to do well. I'd like to improve so I'm doing playoff games, with the long-term goal of officiating a state championship game. An official who doesn't want to do well won't be doing any varsity games.

And an official doing a Division I game is there because he/she beat out a LOT of people. More so with professional. Even more so with playoffs. Human as they are, they are there because they are the best.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger tommyspoon said...

But I'm not suggesting that you be paid.

What I'm suggesting is that these organizations that you officate for make an investment in you, to help improve the quality of your officiating. I understand that money is the obstacle, and smaller school systems probably can't afford such expenditures, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't do everything that they can to improve officiating.

Or do I have my priorities messed up?

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

Which organizations should come forward with the money? The non-profit officiating association, or the schools? Should they send me out of state? To good, expensive camps, or less-good, less-expensive ones?

If it's the latter, then yes, I do think the priorities are off. If we're spending money on schools, I think our nation is better served by buying books to subsidizing ref camp. If you think that's misallocating your tax dollars, there's a solution: write a check to send a ref to camp for your local association next year.

We do four scholarships a year, and I got one a couple of years back. Should we send everybody? How?


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