Recently I covered a high school basketball game of a very successful program. This team is currently undefeated and the school won a state championship in hoops just a few years back. Their coach gets the most out of a team and is a large part of the school’s success.
But during the game he spends more time berating officials than he does coaching his team.
I was interviewing him after the game and one of the officials walked by. The coach reached out to the ref, but the official wanted no part of him. Without breaking stride, the ref let him know that he made it personal in his attacks during the game and that he would have no part of any apology. The last thing the coach said before the official walked out of the door was – I’m only human.
Too bad he didn’t give the ref that same benefit of the doubt during the game.
Television commentators will praise a coach for “working the officials” during a college basketball game. But there is a definite line between standing up for your players and being a jerk. However, it seems like more and more that coaches are falling on the wrong side of that line.
And that behavior translates to the fans in the stands.
Now, I know full well that there is a long history of fans antagonizing the officials of any sport. But the level of criticism that I witness at college and high school basketball games today is unacceptable. The officiating in the professional leagues often leaves a lot to be desired. What makes a fan at a high school game think he’s going to see a better job by the refs than what they get in the NBA?
When you go to see a sporting event, the story is the game played on the court or field. Too many fans cannot accept that they are not the story and do whatever they can to vault themselves into the spotlight. This behavior can manifest itself in various forms. Spectators can paint their faces/bodies in their team’s colors to draw attention to themselves. Often they form groups during the games and come up with vulgar cheers. But the most common form of this behavior is officiating the game from the stands and criticizing every call that seemingly goes against your team.
Look, if you are that good of an official please, I beg you, go put those skills to a worthy cause. Volunteer to be an official at a youth or recreational league game. Or become certified and work high school games. We need all of the good refs we can get. Just please stop embarrassing yourself by “working the officials” from the stands.
Because the bottom line is that the refs on the floor may be doing a mediocre job, but the game you are calling from the stands is simply brutal.
One of my favorite examples of this happened when I was a spectator at the ACC Tournament one year. A fellow behind us was just killing the officials for their non-calls and was losing his mind while doing it. He was screaming for the ref to blow a whistle for a 5-second call while a player was being guarded with the ball in bounds. My buddy turned around and politely explained that the 5-second rule did not apply in the backcourt because they had 10 seconds to advance the ball past the mid-court line. Fortunately, the guy recognized he was being an idiot and stopped acting out for the rest of the game.
So, if you recognize yourself as one of these fans, what can you do to reign in this ugly behavior?
First, recognize that officials are human and that they are going to make mistakes. Second, understand that they know more about the rules than you do and how to properly apply them. Third, accept that the reason officials are placed on the court and not in the stands is because the view from the stands is far too often not good. Finally, the refs do not care who wins, so stop acting like they are openly rooting for the other team.
This last one is the most important one. Because I have yet to cover a game where a parent or fan from the stands hasn’t uttered the famous line: call it both ways, ref. This may be the single worst thing you can say. It’s whiny, it shows a lack of objectivity on your part (not the refs) and while it masquerades as incisive, it only comes across as trite.
At the very least, mix it up and go “8-on-5” or ask the ref to bend over and use his good eye.
And for the love of everything that is good, please stop your officiating from the stands when the game has been decided. If your team is up 20 points, there is absolutely no reason short of injury to criticize a call on the floor. The world will suffer a poor loser but nothing is as annoying as a sore winner. As any ref will tell you.