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NCAA referees are really bad

April 08, 2019
Auburn v Virginia

Tom Pennington

Here, watch this blatant double dribble at the end of the Virginia-Auburn game from Saturday night:

Even Gene Steratore admitted it, and his official job title is "Guy Who Always Says the Referees are Correct No Matter What."

If that gets called, as it should have been, Auburn wins the game and heads to the national championship. Instead, Virginia got the ball back, Kyle Guy got fouled shooting a three (a good call, actually!), and it was the Cavaliers who won. So, basically, Auburn got robbed.

But wait! Check this out, from Golf Digest's very own writer-slash-podcaster-slash-pop icon-slash-NCAA hoops sleuth Alex Myers:

So, really, it should have been a foul call, in which case Virginia would have gotten the ball back with slightly more time and...had a chance to win? Probably lost? Either way, Auburn would certainly take their chances compared to what actually happened, but the truth is there's only one undeniable conclusion to draw:

NCAA referees are brutal.

I'm not judging from just this one instance, mind you. I mostly watch the NBA, where the officiating is very good, there's freedom of movement, and the style of play is typically offense-oriented and thus incredibly fun to watch. However, I also watch a lot of Duke games, and like most of sports fan America, I'm glued to the TV during March Madness. And I can tell you, because it's obvious, that along with being an inferior product due to terrible defense-oriented rules, the college game is populated with clueless officials.

I can't tell if the refs themselves are bad, or if the rules are so bad an unclear that it's impossible to call them correctly. But watch any five-minute stretch of college hoops, and you'll see the exact same things:

1. Defenders grabbing, holding, and hacking offensive players without a whistle being blown.

2. Defenders drawing the most absurd possible charge calls, either in the lane where, 99% of the time, they aren't fully set before impact, or on the perimeter where they lean into a dribbling guard, fall backward, and invariably get the call.

3. Endless replays that kill the flow of the game, and which the refs inexplicably get wrong about 10% of the time anyway.

It's awful, and it's a big reason why, with rare exceptions, the product is so shabby. Referees are on a mission to nullify offensive talent and cut scoring, and their "success" partly explains why college teams find such success playing slow, grinding, physical basketball, and why we see way too many low-scoring, boring games. It's why the teams with blue chip players and great coaches are vulnerable to big upsets in March—even the most high-flying stars can't score when they get bodied and hacked free of charge every time they attack the basket, and when eagle-eyed refs are so eager to call charges if they have the audacity to do anything but sit on the perimeter.

It needs to change, but that's been the case for years. I've been complaining about it for a decade, at least. Seth Davis has, Jay Bilas has, almost anyone with a voice and two eyes has.

Here's Brian Phillips on Grantland from 2015 in a piece decrying the style of the college game:

"The ease of drawing charges encourages annoying defensive flopping. The use of part-time referees encourages constant fouling — not even hard shots, just a lot of handsy grappling."

None of this is ever going to change, because the NCAA is mired in a permanent bureaucratic morass and is also a fundamentally immoral body that couldn't make a courageous decision if it tried. The game is a reflection of the body, and until the body changes, the game and its referees will march onward in staggering incompetence. It's a crisis without a fix.

The I-Told-You-So Unhappy Prophet of the Week: Me

It's my sad party, and I'll cry-brag if I want to. Here's what I wrote last week:

"Destiny is on the side of the bores. We need to resign ourselves, and we need to bend the knee—Tony Bennett and the Cavs are here to destroy us, and they're going to take their sweet time."

Stupidly, with Auburn leading by four points with fifteen seconds left, I allowed myself to dream.

Then Kyle Guy hit a baseline three. Then this happened:

Then this happened:

Kyle Guy is pure stones, and Virginia is reaping the karmic benefits of last year's devastating loss to UMBC. Nothing can stop them.

The Heroic Honesty Award of the Week: Kyle Guy, Virginia

I absolutely loved this response when he was asked how he felt going to the foul line with the entire game at stake:

Guy is a great shooter who hits from the line at an 82.5% clip, but I don't care if he had never missed before in his life: Going to the stripe knowing you have to hit at least two, and that if you don't you'll go down in history as a chokey-chokey-choker, is basically impossible. The amount of nerves coursing through his body at that point must have been overwhelming, and it makes his feat all the more impressive. And after all that, admitting how he felt is pretty—"terrified—is pretty cool, especially since the overwhelming majority of players would have lied or delivered some banality like, "I just wanted to do my best for coach and the team." I hope Virginia loses by 90 on Monday night, but I'm a Kyle Guy fan through and through.

Your Alabama-Hatin' Schadenfreude of the Week: These Celebratin' Auburn Fans

There are a lot of very good reasons to hate on Alabama, and I won't get into the whole litany here, but suffice it to say that if you're a Bama hater, you're not alone. Which is why it was so hilarious to see this video of Auburn students celebrating with toilet paper rolls at Toomer's Corner following the Tigers' win over Virginia:

Only one problem: Auburn didn't win! They lost! Which led to this hilarious comedown (warning: some background swearing):

[#twitter: ]

There are more delicious videos in that thread, but those two give you the general idea. The funniest part about this is, how the hell did it happen? It's a basketball game, and it didn't even take very long for the end to play out. Did they leave before Virginia's last possession? Before Kyle Guy took his free throws? Did they think this was football, and that Virginia would definitely screw up the onside kick? I'm completely stumped as to how they could leave early in a close game and celebrate for a full five minutes before realizing things hadn't gone their way. But as an Alabammy hater, you can bet I love it.