The article in today's Philly Inquirer got me to thinking about the officiating in the league. David Stern has set up the officials as absolute authority in the league and anyone who dares to question them is fined heavily and even suspended. But is this good for the integrity of the game?
The refs can very easily influence the outcome of a game. I have seen refs very obviously calling games for one team or another. I have also seen star players get calls amd role players never get calls even when the situations are identical. But if anyone dares question the refs or call them on their bias or bad calls, they get fined for it. What would stop refs from betting on games and then subtly affecting the outcome of the game by the calls they make?
In the recent Spurs/Mavs game, Joey Crawford took this behavior to the extreme. He called Duncan for a technical foul and even challenged him to a fight. Then, with Duncan sitting on the bench and laughing with his teammates, Crawford called a second technical foul on Duncan and ejected him. The result of this was a Mavericks win. Crawford was clearly wrong and was suspended for the playoffs, but that didn't stop Stern from fining Duncan for criticizing him. Duncan had every right to call Crawford for his behavior and the suspension proved this.
I have been frustrated at times during Celtics games where it seems that every call goes against us. I have also seen it go the opposite way and almost every call goes for us. In either case, it influences the outcome of the game and some refs appear to have an agenda for or against certain teams. But yet, when there are obvious bad calls, whether they are just blown calls or refs favoring a particular team, no one is allowed to question it. How can that be good for the league?
Already, in the first round of the playoffs, the refs have come under fire from some players and coaches about bias one way or the other. Shaq in particular was very vocal about calls going against him. He complained about the refs falling for flopping by the Bulls and he also was frustrated by the inconsistency of the calls.
"It's just unfortunate that people fall for that," said O'Neal, who scored 10 points in the first quarter before the fouls piled up. "I'm used to just outplaying somebody and just playing hard, but I guess that's what you got to do to stop Shaq." "I thought I was just standing there," O'Neal said. "Even if I did have part of the back of my foot on the line, they couldn't make the call watching two things at once. The inconsistency is just very frustrating."
Inconsistency is another thing that was called into question by the Inquirer article. On one hand, Haslem was thrown out of a game last year for throwing his mouthpiece and Heinrich threw his mouthpiece this season and received just a fine. We constantly see one team called for a certain violation on one end and the other team get away with it on the other end.
I would like to see a governing body being placed over the refs consisting of league officials, owners, players, and coaches. When a team files a protest, the committee would review the film and determine if there is a valid reason for the complaint. If there is, the refs would be penalized, and if there isn't, the team who complained would be fined. But to just fine players and coaches blindly, without ever questioning whether they are correct or not is not right.
David Stern is very concerned about the integrity of the league. He instituted the dress code. He fined Danny for sitting next to Durant's mom. He fined Nellie and Jordan for even mentioning Oden in a press conference. Coaches, owners, and players all have questioned the integrity of the officiating and in many cases, they have a very valid point. Yet, the only thing Stern does is to fine them and nothing is done to insure that the officiating is truly fair. And the refs can feel pretty secure to call games however they want because there is no one to call them into question. In my opinion, the Crawford case illustrates this. He figured he could call those T's without any reprisals. Do you think he would have done it if he knew that he was being scrutinized and would be punished? In this case, it was so blatant that Stern had no choice but to punish him but in other cases, it isn't as obvious and they get away with it. I expect the next scandal to come out will be a ref betting on games he officiates. Some of them obviously have agendas for calling the games and this may very well be it. Or, as in the case of Crawford there may be a player or team that gets under their skin and they refuse to give them the calls.
Stern has been quick to call for changes in the lottery to keep teams from tanking and to protect the integrity of the game, but if he really wants to protect the integrity of the game, he will put a system of checks and balances in place to keep the refs honest and to assure fairness in the officiating for all teams and all players.