This weekend, Illini fans were treated to one of the strangest, most head-scratching, end-of-the-game referee decisions we have seen. It was a potential game changer with about 30 seconds to go, and because of the thin margins for teams like Illinois and Michigan State, it was a potential season changer as well. Hard to give this call justice, but here it is.
Your basic hard screen-out on a bonus free throw… What you don’t see in that little clip (or actually you start to see it) is the Spartan player looks over to be sure the ref is watching, then doubles over in agony as if he’s been groin-smacked. Maybe he was… Sure doesn’t look like it. Anyway, the refs called nothing, so they went to the video screen for a replay and assessed a technical foul – fouling out Jaylon Tate, giving the Spartans two more free throws and the ball, and sending the Illini Nation into a collective rage. Fortunately the Spartans only made one FT, gave up the ball, and Illinois won in the end. But speaking to my brother and others, we can’t remember ever seeing such a poor decision, so clearly influenced by the home crowd and the reputation of the coach (Tom Izzo, Dean of Big 10 hoops coaches). This call resulted in a twitter slap-fight between ESPN talking head Dan Dakich and the mayor of Champaign, Don Gerard (no vote-trolling there).
For starters, you couldn’t go to the replay monitor until recently, so this wouldn’t have occurred. Instead you’d have the inevitable make-up call at the next earliest opportunity. Of course one reason the refs can go to the monitors for the replay goes back two years ago to an NCAA tourney game when Miami beat Illinois on the strength of a missed out-of-bounds call in the final minutes. Meanwhile, Illini fans have grumbled for years about the deference often received by the Spartans by the refs. They are a very physical team, and yet somehow they never seem to foul as much – not an easy trick. Izzo gets more than his share of calls. The weirdest thing about this whole situation is how the refs seemed to stretch the rules (calling it a dead-ball technical) because otherwise it was a no-call. They could have called a regular foul at the time, but didn’t, so therefore we should have played on.
As anyone who has ever picked up a whistle and tried to call game, knows, officiating is hard. I was reminded of that just this weekend when I filled in to call a pair of games for little bitty (1st and 2nd graders) kids. I missed the very first call out there – an out-of-bounds that I just didn’t see. The coach just looked at me and shook his head, and I just had to shrug… I’m glad to report I was better after that. Tried to keep the games safe without calling too much to stop it.
In Illinois we simply don’t have enough officials. Nearly every sport we hear about, the organizers/directors can’t seem to find enough refs – let alone good ones. They don’t get paid all that well, and for youth sports/recreational sports, they’re very often volunteers. Something to think about the next time your kid gets chop-fouled and there’s no call…
But what excuse does the Big 10 have?