Jay Bilas with an interesting take on officiating – not officials – and how it is having a negative impact on the quality of play in college basketball.
I will say his point about freedom of movement is one I agree with. It doesn’t seem like it is being enforced as much as it has been the past three or four years. Interesting that the fouls being called are down.
From his column on ESPN.com:
The most important and impactful factor in the drop in level of play has been officiating. Let The Bilastrator be clear: The most important factor has not been officials, it has been officiating. The officials in college basketball are excellent, and they are well-trained, well-paid and highly competent professionals who have performed and continue to perform consistently at a high level. The officials, generally and overall, do a great job.
Many well-intentioned people and committees put forth initiatives to promote “freedom of movement” and return it to the college game. The game had become far too physical, and actions to impede ball handlers and cutters that were and are fouls had been ignored for too long and had gone uncalled. In a game in which players were getting better and better, more and more athletic, with a shorter shot clock and a 3-point line, scoring was annually going down and had reached historic lows. The past few years, those in charge of the game had done a fabulous job of addressing the fouling and impeding of ball handlers and cutters. But this year, those in charge of the officials have not been as vigilant as in the past few years.
With the freedom of movement initiative, officials were mandated (not asked — mandated by their superiors) to call the clear fouls being committed, especially the impeding of ball handlers and cutters by illegally disrupting rhythm, speed, balance and quickness. Officials did a great job of consistently calling hand-checking, arm bars on ball handlers and illegal contact in the post and on shooters. As a result, scoring went up significantly, and went up without the gains coming from free throws. In short, the game greatly improved, and players and coaches adjusted nicely. The freedom of movement initiative was far less painful than expected, and the gains were clear. The credit belonged to the supervisors for being vigilant and resolute in executing the mandate, and to the officials for doing exactly what they were required to do.
Well, the gains made have been lost this season. Freedom of movement in college basketball is dead. Actions that were clear fouls over the past three seasons are being allowed, including hand-checking and arm bars to illegally impede ball handlers, and illegal contact on cutters to impede and disrupt. Post play has become more physical. Yet, foul calls are down. Again, foul calls are down. Fouls are not down, fouls are way up, and fouling is not defense. Officials are not calling clear fouls this season. There is no more important factor in the level of play than the substantial erosion in freedom of movement.
Again, to be clear, this is not a problem with officials, it is a problem with officiating. The responsibility for this erosion is on the shoulders of the administrators, the supervisors of officials and conference commissioners. Until this substantial erosion is addressed and fixed, we will not see the level of play improve. It is that simple.
Lastly, a word on the officials themselves. College basketball has an excellent corps of officials in today’s game. If you believe otherwise, please watch game film from two decades ago and earlier. Officiating was horrifyingly bad back then as compared to now. Officials have never been better than they are today. Officials are more professional, in better condition and on top of far more today than ever before. Yet, the game has demanded more than ever from officials, too. Truthfully, it demands too much. This year, officials are having to police flopping and the coaching box, two meaningless things that have taken away from primary duties. Officials have to be arbiters on the floor and must also be appeals judges on replay. The demands on officials are, quite frankly, ridiculous. The officials should be allowed and encouraged to focus more on the play on the floor rather than the temporal and silly whims of a committee. We, as a game, continue to get in the officials’ way, and all of the demands upon officials have had a negative impact upon officiating and on the level of play.
That is not to say we cannot differ with a call here or there, or debate a rule. The officials are paid professionals, and their calls on the floor are the law. The officials’ calls are final and not subject to change due to fan opinions or media commentary from the sideline. There are a few officials out there who feel that those not wearing stripes have no business opining on their calls and should remain silent (unless agreeing with every call). Well, they are wrong in that belief. If the actions of coaches and players can be dissected on the floor, so can officials’ calls be similarly discussed and opined about. Those officials who believe otherwise are wrong.