In reporting on a piece for this morning’s Lansing State Journal on the reasons for home-court advantage in college basketball, I expected some of what I heard and read.
But not the degree in which the blame is pointed squarely and only on officials.
It certainly lends credence to what are often frustrations and suspicions of fans.
But I’m not sure I completely agree with the research, as thorough and consistent as it may be.
I watch a few games from this season again, watching only for calls, especially those which seemed to change the momentum of a game or sit a player with second or fourth foul.
A couple perceptions: One, players get flustered on the road and do dumb things. They run over people offensively and reach more and try to make up for mistakes with aggression.
Secondly, college basketball really ought to go to six fouls. It would take lessen home-court advantage and take the game out of the hands of officials.
If a second foul didn’t mean a player needed to sit for the rest of the first half, fearing a third foul, then that one bad call by an official wouldn’t as likely change the course of a game.
I also had interesting interviews with retired long-time referees Sam Lickliter and Randy Drury.
What I enjoyed about the conversation was listening to how seriously they take their craft and how professionally they addressed the idea of officials’ bias. It’s essentially the same as someone accusing a journalist of fudging quotes or the truth, even if unintentionally.
The best quote came from Drury: “The biggest compliment that a coach can give an official is, ‘I don’t like that SOB, but I’ll take him on the road anytime.’”
It speaks to how hard they strive for fairness.
As did this quote from Lickliter: “If you think the fouls are 7-2 (in favor of one team), you’re trying to find something to make it 7-3, 7-4. You’re trying to find things that you’re not missing. … You’re aware of what’s going on.”
I’ve always suspected that and don’t necessarily like hearing that, because it means refs are searching for calls and one could call a foul away from the ball on every play in college basketball.
But I respected Lickliter’s candor.
I think basketball is as difficult a sport to officiate as any. It’s fast and fluid and supposedly a non-contact sport, but with contact on every possession.
My issue with officials, beyond a call I disagree with here and there, is when they’re emphatic with a call (especially one they at first weren’t certain about). When Ted Valentine leaps around and points in one direction with emphasis, he’s adding to the momentum and emotion of the game. That’s not his role.
Both Lickliter and Drury said they saw the impact of the crowd visibly on players. And they’re in the arena, more so than those analyzing this from afar.
Officials are human and the stats support their unintentional home-court bias. But that doesn’t explain why so often we see a kid hit six 3s at home go 0-for-8 on the road.
But it’s something to watch more closely.