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Orange Win Overshadowed By Poor Officiating

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

One of the most interesting things about following games on Twitter, whether you’re an objective fan, partial fan, blogger or national writer, is the experience of getting tons of opinions on a game-changing moment right as it happens. When Baye Keita “blocked” Deniz Kilicli’s putback attempt in the waning seconds of Saturday’s game against West Virginia, reactions from around the community instantly flooded my feed as people weighed in on whether Karl Hess made a bad no-call (he did). The most prevalent opinions can be paraphrased as follows:

1. Referee Karl Hess should not have swallowed his whistle in such an important moment.

2. West Virginia had plenty of chances, but they shot 40% from the floor and committed 14 turnovers in a slow-paced game, so one no-call should not define the game.

3. Even if the referees had whistled Keita for goaltending, who’s to say that Syracuse wouldn’t go down the court and score in the ten or so seconds that remained to win the game?

3. Blame should be placed on the conferences who employ the referees, as they enable excessive workloads, leading to decreased quality in officiating.

But you know what? None of these opinions are incorrect. Don’t get me wrong – Every win is valuable, especially when the Orange get waxed on the glass (again – but more on this later this week) and go ice cold from the perimeter for the sixth straight time. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taking a good, hard look at what happened in the closing seconds, and I wanted to offer my take on the perspectives put forth by those I follow.

First, regarding the notion that Karl Hess swallowed his whistle and “let them play,” as the saying goes. There’s a fundamental problem with this. By opting to not get involved in the play, officials get involved in the play. It’s a disservice to the players and coaches to call the game one way for 99% of the time and change it for the remaining 1%. It’s even worse when the right call is clear as day. While those of us at home had the benefit of instant replay to help us see the space between the backboard and the ball when Baye Keita pinned it, it wasn’t necessary, as even the broadcast team immediately took the officiating crew to task.

That doesn’t mean the Mountaineers didn’t have their chances. They had several opportunities, up to and including Kevin Jones’ missed three after the non-call, to pull ahead. As mentioned before, West Virginia didn’t hold onto the ball and the team shot poorly, especially Kilicli, who went 2-10 from the field. That’s right – even if the right call was made, it would only bump Kilicli’s shooting day to 30%, an abysmal rate for anyone, but especially a post player whose attempts come from close range.

Moving on, there was enough time left that even if points had been awarded to West Virginia, the Orange would have had the opportunity to get a shot off in time to win the game, and if they didn’t, there would be an overtime, so while the goaltend would have been the right call, it would not have guaranteed a win for the Mountaineers, which was suggested by a small handful. We’ll never know.

And fingers should be pointed to the Big East’s offices in Providence for employing Karl Hess to work his 21st game in 28 days, according to Statsheet.com. The other two officials have also logged their fair share of miles, though not to Hess’s extreme. Saturday’s game was Brian O’Connell’s 18th in January, and Gene Steratore was on his 17th assignment of the month, but his seventh in eight days. Raphielle Johnson, who you should be following, brought to my attention the fact that Steratore has also called NFL playoff games, which makes the workload even more egregious.

I’ve talked before about how officiating is as much a systemic problem as it is a reflection on the raw ability of the referees to call consistent games. They aren’t robots and studies have shown officiating to be skewed towards the home team, inadvertently or not. However, that doesn’t mean the system isn’t without some serious flaws.

Why referees are allowed to draw so many assignments is perplexing. It’s not as if the pay is so meager that they have to work every chance they get in order to make a living. According to a 2009 article, “Big Six” conference officials are paid upwards of $2,000 per game, though to be fair, that may be a gross amount before expenses, as they are considered independent contractors. In theory, an NCAA official can rake in the median income of an American household by working about 25 games.

It’s not the pay that bothers me, though. If anything, one could argue that pay should be increased so superior talent can be attracted. Being a referee in any sport requires a set of physical and cognitive skills that ought to come at a premium. It’s also true that the NCAA nets over $770 million annually from its tournament broadcasting rights deal with CBS and Turner. While a portion of the money goes towards financing non-revenue sports, I have a hard time believing that a few of those stacks of cash can’t be allocated towards improving officiating by some combination of attracting better talent, sharper evaluation of the current work force, and implementing a system of increased accountability.

There are admittedly a couple of hitches in this idea. As mentioned before, conferences, not the NCAA, oversee officials’ schedules. The financial and logistical aspects would be tough to navigate. However, while you can’t just throw money at a problem and automatically expect it to go away it can be a start.

While a win is a win, I’d be absolutely livid if the shoe was on the other foot. As it is, I’m just moderately livid, the veins in my neck barely intact.

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