Monday, June 28, 2010

Officiating: Biggest Problem in Sports?

Regardless of their differences, skills and abilities they require, there is one thing all sports have in common. They are all watched over by officials. Anyone can agree, that is the most important job in any game. Making sure it's played correctly.

I have played sports, I've watched sports nearly my entire life and I have also officiated them. Experiencing all sides of a game is something I recommend to everyone. Having that experience makes you appreciate both the referees and players disputations in a discussion of a call that was made or not made. But today I'd like to address somewhat of a "problem" in the professional world of sports regarding this issue.

First, I'd like to start in the NBA. July 20th 2007, it was reported that NBA official Tim Donaghy had been approached by the law because he had been caught betting on games that he had been officiating and calling them in his favor. Eventually Donaghy pleaded guilty and served 11 months in prison for it. I'm sure there are some spectators who are suspicious that he wasn't the only one involved in such activities. Just the only one who's been caught.

Just this past season, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson was fined $70,000 alone in the month of April for criticizing refs. Jackson said that Oklahoma City Forward Kevin Durant has been treated like a superstar by referees and he also stated that his own player Kobe Bryant got an unnecessary technical foul in a game against the San Antonio Spurs. Phil just won his 5th NBA Finals Championship with the Lakers and 11th of his coaching career. Is it odd that the man who has coached two of the best players in the NBA is criticizing it's referees? Is there a problem with those ref's? Why would the Champions complain about the officiating? NBA Commissioner David Stern had this to say about those criticims of the Referees on his payroll: "As you guys know, our referees go out there and knock themselves out and do the best job they can. But we've got coaches who will do whatever it takes to try to work them publicly. What that does is erode fan confidence.

"So our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families, and if they don't like it they should go get a job someplace else."

Then he addressed the recent fines of coach Jackson: "If I had to do it again … the price wouldn't be a modest $35,000 fine. It would be whatever a day's pay is and then two day's pay and then a week's pay. And if someone wants to try me in the rest of this playoffs, make my day.

"The game is too important and I don't think that the people that are trashing it are respecting it, and we'll do what we have to do, players and coaches alike. They give the impression to our fans that our referees somehow have an agenda. Yeah, they have an agenda. It's to knock themselves out to give the best call that they can give and then to send their checks home to their mothers and give the rest to charity."

How intriguing would it be after those comments by the commish himself if there was another "Tim Donaghy" out there?

Moving on from the NBA to MLB. The rarest event that has ever happened in professional baseball is a pitchers perfect game. No walks. Nothing but 27 consecutive outs. That's only happened 20 times in Major League Baseball. Twice this season. Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies and Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics threw perfect games just within days of eachother. Not long after that Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Gallaraga was still on the mound in the bottom of the 9th inning against the Cleveland Indians. He was one out away from a perfect game. There was a hit groundball hit by Jason Donald. Standard play for any infielder. And it was a textbook play. Dug up and thrown to first. Just when the Tigers team started to celebrate Gallaraga's historic performance, First Base Umpire Jim Joyce waved his arms side to side calling the runner safe. The entire stadium was in an uproar. Gallaraga got the next batter out ending the game. Joyce was approached by media, said he watched that play over again and admitted he made the wrong decision.

“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce told reporters in Detroit. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.” Some have been saying Gallaraga's performance was the first ever 28 out perfect game.

The next day MLB said they weren't going to make any changes to that game. Even though, it was clear it should have been the 21st perfect game in the history of baseball. Like the NBA, the MLB defends it's officials. Some have been saying Gallaraga's performance was the first ever 28 out perfect game.

Watching that replay showed the true outcome of that play. That is something the NFL and NCAA (Football) has put in to their system of officiating. All coaches have a red flag in their pocket. If they see a play they thought was called incorrectly, they can throw that red flag and "Challenge" the play. The game will then be stopped and the head official of that game will go to a replay booth and see if there is enough video evidence for that play to be overturned. Now based on the time and how many timeouts a team has, that flag can be thrown. Also, there is an officiating crew in the press box who can stop the game to check out a play if they feel they should. This would not be considered a coaches challenge.

This is a great thing for football and all of sports. Referees are human. They can make mistakes and the NFL and NCAA have done a job well done in making sure that even though mistakes can be made, the truth can still prevail.

The most recent officiating event I wanted to touch on happened in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A controversial call took a goal away from the United States late in their match against Slovenia. As a result, the American team had to settle for a 2-2 draw with Slovenia. The Americans trailed 2-0 in that match and that call gave them a T in the standings instead of a W. The following Friday there was a report that referee Koman Coulibaly who made that call would not be used by FIFA for any more matches in the World Cup. The next Monday, that was confirmed.

I would like to give the NFL, and FIFA a big thumbs up as they have recieved my respect for the way they have handled the problems with officiating. I hope that someday the games of basketball and baseball can adopt the NFL's replay system. And I hope we as sports fans don't have any more Tim Donaghy's officiating the games we so love to watch. It's about everyone competing with no edge whatsoever other than their own athleticism. No one ever said all is fair in love, war and sports!

1 comment:

  1. I freakin love you. This is a sweet post, and I totally agree with everything that you have said!!! I can't stand how there is not a replay system in baseball and basketball. Especially basketball. I think it's totally bogus that coaches can't challenge certain plays. I personally think they should get one challenge per quarter. And if they don't use one, then it doesn't give them an extra one. It's just one per quarter.