It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume I

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2010

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor.  In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED..…that the Big Ten announced Sunday it’s not looking to expand in the near future. This recent movement between conferences has been fine and dandy, but I’m all for reeling things in a little bit now rather than continuing to strengthen/expand the big boys. We like conferences in college basketball for a reason – their identities. Teams in the ACC get up and down, the Big East is super physical… etc. Let’s keep expansion under control and preserve that uniqueness.

Twelve is Apparently Enough

I LOVED…..a coach with no filter. Yes, Bruce Pearl, we’re talking about you. You were always one to let fly with a zinger once you got to UT. You spilled the beans about the rules you broke recently, and when given the chance, you had no problem lining up a zinger at a former UT employee.

“I’ve made mistakes, I clearly did, but what I was hoping for was that some other dumb%#& would get on the front page and take me off the hook,” Pearl said. “I miss Lane Kiffin.”

Thank heavens you’re still around Bruce, because we’d miss you.

I LOVED…..legacies getting into the act. On one hand we had Michael Jordan’s son, Marcus, making noise with his 18 points in a Central Florida upset over the freefalling Florida Gators. That sure beats making the headlines because you refuse to wear anything but Daddy’s shoes.

Then there’s Tyler Summit at Tennessee. The son of legendary UT women’s coach Pat Summit, baby-faced Tyler stepped onto the court — named after mom — during garbage time and promptly nailed a three. Sure he dipped his knees all the way and hoisted it up like he was ten years old (a distinct possibility), but you can’t argue with results.

I LOVED…..watching the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and all interconference challenges for that matter. It’s great for a number of reasons. One, it gives us monster matchups like Duke-Michigan State, and is great for the fans. Two, it tests teams early on and makes them play in hostile environments, even if their coach would prefer otherwise (yes, Coach K, we’re talking about you and your affinity for neutral court non-conference games). And three, it gives us a decent way to peg different conferences early in the year – like how the ACC is down again.

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Backdoor Cuts: Vol. I

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2009

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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…

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NCAA Response to Tim Donaghy

Posted by rtmsf on July 26th, 2007

As a short follow-up to the Donaghy scandal, the NCAA released the following information to espn.com regarding the measures it takes to ensure that its officials are clean (RTC’s comments below in bold): 

NCAA (basketball)
• The NCAA produces a video that is provided to each of the officials selected for the NCAA championship. The video warns of the dangers of gambling.

[Wow!  A video!  Reminds us of 9th grade.]

• All officials eligible to be selected to work the championship are subject to random, thorough background checks.

[Covered this yesterday.  How thorough could these checks be?  What predictive value do they have?]

• There are security and operational plans for officials, which the NCAA does not discuss publicly.

[This just sounds like "we don't want you to know what we don't know."]

• The NCAA works with law enforcement authorities on the local, state and federal levels in the handling of any inquiries, concerns or issues, should any arise.

[Working with the police?  This sounds like measures used ex post facto, not preventive in any way.]

• The NCAA does not bring the referees who work the national title game into the city until the day of the game. The NCAA used to bring them in for the weekend, but they didn’t want the referees to be exposed, visible and have everyone know who they are prior to the title game.

[Was this rule instituted before phones and the internet?]

• Officials are also subject to extensive background checks.

[Just in case you forgot from above.] 

MADD 

Is This the NCAA Instructional Video?

As we stated rather longwindedly yesterday, there are ginormous (new Webster’s word this year – look it up) holes in the controls that ensure the integrity of NCAA basketball officials.  Almost everything the NCAA stated above is designed for one purpose and one purpose only – CYA – to be able to say that it performed its due diligence the next (first?) time a Donaghy is uncovered in college athletics.

Perhaps the reason that a Donaghy has yet to be discovered in the NCAA has everything to do with the complete lack of oversight of most of its officials and nothing to do with some pie-in-the-sky notion that the NCAA has things under control.  As The Commish said, NBA officials are the most scrutinized referees in the world, and yet Donaghy still eluded discovery through the League’s objective measurements.  How on earth would anyone know if a Big West or Atlantic 10 official was doing what Donaghy did (assuming he doesn’t go overboard to tip off the gambling establishment)? 

The short answer is that there is no way to know unless the official slips up.  Donaghy’s mistake was that he was betting with illegal bookies, which ultimately led him down the primrose path to the inevitable symbiotic relationship that we saw exposed last week.   The NCAA certainly doesn’t have the institutional wisdom or resources that the NBA has, but the above measures (and those outlined yesterday by the ACC and Big Ten) leave us asking for considerably more… 

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