DAVE ZEITLIN: Everyone these days has a voice. And sometimes, it seems, most people try to use that voice in the most loud and obnoxious way possible. This column won’t be like that. Yes, this column will be a running dialogue between two people (myself and fellow RTC contributor Steve Moore) that will focus on angles, trends, players, coaches, fans and everything else in our favorite sport (which, if you haven’t already guessed, is college basketball). But we promise not to Stephen A. Smith you, or act like these guys. When we do have debates, they will be civil and funny — and in most cases, I will be right. But, really, our goals with this column are simple. If we can just generate excitement about college basketball, get fans of this site thinking, and end the threat of nuclear war forever, we will have done our job.
Why should you read us? Well, for starters, the column will appear in THE place to get your college basketball news, rushthecourt.net (that’s a plug, people). Secondly, we’re both award-winning sportswriters for Philadelphia-area newspapers (yes, we know no one reads newspapers; why do you think we’re writing this column?). Thirdly, we both really, really like college basketball. (Like a lot. Like in unhealthy ways. Like we may or may not sacrifice non-vital organs for the chance to touch Gus Johnson’s larynx.) And finally, you should feel bad for us since we both root for mid-major teams that have little to no chance of winning a NCAA tournament game. I root for the mighty Penn Quakers of the Ivy League (hence the name of this column), while Steve roots for Boston University, whose best all-time basketball player is Mike Eruzione, who played hockey. This column is our salvation.
Throughout the season, we will flood you with topics from around the college basketball landscape, while splicing in semi-informed opinions and slightly irrelevant historical and pop culture references. But we wanted to start with an interesting news story that is just coming across the wire: a study that finds that college basketball referees tend to show biases in certain situations. The study basically says that a) refs favor the home team; b) refs try to even the score; c) refs do like to make “make-up” calls; and d) Duke gets every call no matter what because how can you not be terrified of this man? I have a few thoughts on this right off the bat, but I’ll let Steve — the Robin to my Batman, or Billy Packer to my Jim Nantz — take the ball and run with this one to start.
STEVE MOORE: First of all, how come you get to be Batman? Secondly, I’ve touched Gus Johnson’s larynx, and it wasn’t all that memorable. Bill Raftery’s onions, however…well that’s a different story.
Anyway, Dave did a good job of introducing our lame attempt at analysis and humor, so I won’t try to one-up him there. Except to point out that people do read newspapers (like my grandfather), and that Mike Eruzione is a national hero who doesn’t appreciate being mocked. I asked him.
Now to the topic at hand. I didn’t need a professor to tell me that referees are biased, especially toward home teams or when they know people are watching on TV. The question really is: Does it matter? I would argue that it doesn’t, and that it’s actually better for the game this way.
Do you really want your officials to not have a mind of their own? With all these debates about out or safe, strike or ball, or handball-that-destroyed-the-hopes-of-an-entire-Guiness-drinking-nation, we always hear people say “I just want them to get the call right.” Well in basketball, the only calls we have that are similar to those are whether a shot is released before the buzzer — and we already allow replay for that situation. Everything else is subjective, and open to interpretation by reasonable men (and women) who work just as hard as the players.
Every basketball fan knows that the home crowd sways officials — that’s why there’s such a thing as homecourt advantage. And make-up calls are a part of the game that we may scream about as fans, but they work out in favor of your team just as often as they hurt (unless you’re playing Duke). I was all set to come out and say that officials should be fair and never let the crowd influence them, etc., etc. And I’m sure none of them do it consciously. But think about it: Would you really want every game officiated by a robot? By an objective observer who doesn’t understand anything about flow, rhythym, or a certain spot in the game? Whether you like it or not, a foul in the first half is not the same as a foul in the second half — and it shouldn’t be. Let the players play. That’s another mantra we always hear. Well, by the strict definition of the rule book, there is likely at least one foul on EVERY POSSESSION in a college game. Everyone moves their feet on screens, everyone travels, everyone palms the ball, and everyone uses their hands on defense. But smart officials understand what they’re looking at, and know when something needs to be called.
Are there bad refs? Of course. Do good refs have bad nights? Absolutely. But part of the fun of being a hoops fan are those throwaway arguments, like “you’ll never get that call on the road.” Why do you think places like Cameron are so tough for opponents? It’s because officials get a little gun-shy with the whistle since they don’t want to hear it from the crowd. It’s human nature, and it’s part of what makes college basketball great.
Your move, caped crusader…