Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Dark Side

I took a single, tentative step to the dark side on the weekend.

A few months ago, I read a story by
Province sports scribe Howard Tsumura that the city needed basketball refs in the worst way (insert snide comment here). So what did I go and do? I sent the association an e-mail. Saturday was our first meeting. I went.

I've been a long-time ref-hater. But at the same time, I've always enjoyed reffing any time I've done it. So you can understand my trepidation. What the hell, though. I'm a walking contradiction anyway: I love jazz music; don't like jazz fans. I love comedy; not that big a laugher. I'm a proud Canadian; have zero interest in hockey.
Whether I follow through with joining the BCBOA or not remains to be seen. We'll see. I think it would be fun. I can take the abuse from people like me. We'll have that special bond. We'll hate me together.
Today's offering is from the week of March 16-23, 1995. The headline Sports Vue magazine gave it was, "The Big Hate – Refs or Coaches":
The Sports Guy, March 16-23, 1995

by Guy MacPherson

I don’t know who I hate more – coaches who spend the whole game complaining to referees, or the referees themselves.

I make my rational decision on who to cheer for based on style and personality. What can I say? I was raised by a kind and loving television set.

For instance, in hockey I don’t like players with missing front teeth. Nobody who looks more like a doofus than me should make more in a year than I do in a lifetime.

Football players who break into dance are not among my personal all-stars, either. And in basketball, I cheer for teams with the fewest shaved heads. I think bald men look ridiculous. Can you imagine going through life with no hair?

The team with the fewest of the above gets my gleeful support. Sometimes, though, an obnoxious coach can override my like for a particular team.

I sailed to Victoria a couple of weeks back for the finals of the men’s and women’s Canada West university basketball championships. My decision to cheer on the UVic women and the Alberta men was made easy by the sideline shenanigans of their rivals’ coaches. Misty Thomas, head coach of the UBC Thunderbirds, and Guy Vetrie of the UVic Vikes pay more attention to the officials than they do to their own teams. No call against their squads is just. According to them the refs are either incompetent or in a conspiracy to prevent them from reaching their goals.

Thomas whined to the media about the neutral officials after UBC’s loss in game one of the best-of-three. Referees, being human and the big thinkers they are, read the sports pages. There’s no saying her words had an effect on them, but the T-Birds won game two. Game three was won in overtime by UVic.

Coach Vetrie was constantly heckled by the three Alberta fans who made the trip. Each time a “bad” call was made, Vetrie marched onto the court, out of the coach’s box, to berate the offending official. When his two assistants joined him at mid-court for a discussion with the refs, the Golden Bear Supporters yelled, “It’s anarchy!” They were threatened with expulsion by a university employee for making too much noise.

Where’s the conspiracy? I thought I was at a tennis match.

Brett Westcott is another example. The Spectrum high school girls basketball coach not only berates officials, but is reportedly so negative that it has reduced some of his players to tears. This could be true. When I coached a grade eight boys team with him years ago, he reduced me to tears regularly.

This year he is not permitted to coach without a school administrator present.

I went to the AAA girls championship game expecting to heckle Westcott the way those Alberta fans so bravely took on Vetrie. But for that one game, anyway, I found nothing wrong with his style. Of course he complained about calls. I’m not saying coaches should remain stoic when an official makes a bad call. But he didn’t ride them all game; just when they deserved it.

And boy did they deserve it.

The reffing was pretty bad. One referee seemed to make all the calls. Or at least all the close calls. The only reason they were close is that they were called at all. He was consistent, though. He made atrocious calls both ways.

Referee supporters – and surprisingly there are many – will say you can’t take the human element out of the game. Referees are human – or so they say – and as humans will err. But unlike intelligent humans, the bad ones don’t seem to learn from their mistakes.

The problem is that you can’t learn from what you don’t admit. Too many referees, like too many players and coaches, believe they can do no wrong, and when they get called on their mistakes, take things way too personally. When a player or coach screams at a ref, the ref should grin and bear it to a point. You can’t let your ego get in the way of the game. Participants in a competitive arena should be allowed to vent their frustrations.

In my experience refereeing, I’ve had players scream at me and threaten me, but I let it pass. Eleven-year-old girls can get like that sometimes.

Reputations should play no part in the decision of a ref to hand out a technical foul to a coach or player. Each infraction should stand on its own. Westcott, whome the refs know is a live wire, was whistled for a T for innocuously motioning for a travelling call on a Salmon Arm Jewel instead of the personal foul that was called on his player.

Maybe Westcott felt the official had it out for him personally. But he got the last laugh as his fab five bested the number-one ranked Jewels of Denial in a great game. He could have been more gracious, granted, in victory instead of chasing the refs out the door while his team was celebrating on the court. But he’s probably trying to get a job coaching in university.

Paul Simon asks the musical question, “What is the point of this story?”

Don’t know. I’m sitting on the fence. But ultimately, I think I side with the coaches and players over the zebras. They are who we pay to see. Officials are there to make sure the best team wins and the rules are followed. They are a necessary evil. They, and the leagues for whom they work, should lighten up when coaches such as Sonics head man George Karl metaphorically suggests that a certain referee be shot.

Refs... you can’t live with ’em, but you can’t shoot ’em, either. But there’s a lot of room in between for argument.


  1. You don't see a link between the way referees are treated and the lack of referees?

  2. You don't see a link between the way referees are treated and the way referees call games?