This weekend, my timeline on Twitter was blowing up with complaints about the replacement refs in the NFL. With the NBA preseason just a couple weeks away, I thought this was a good time for my first (and definitely not my last) referee rant of the season. In 2007, the NBA was rocked by a scandal when NBA referee Tim Donaghy confessed to betting on games. David Stern set himself up for that one. He has set up the officials as absolute authority in the league and anyone who dares to question them is fined heavily or suspended, or both. No one can question how a game is officiated or call out a ref for consistently making bad calls because Stern has made the refs above questioning and there is no one to oversee them except David Stern.
In the aftermath of the scandal, he appointed Army Major General Ronald L. Johnson as the head of the referee program. This was supposed to turn the system around and make everything right. His appointment was suppsed to separate the league's referee and basketball operations functions. Instead of making the officiating better, it seemed like it was just as bad or even worse than it was before the scandal
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?
It seems now that I was right on as this very thing has happened. If I could see this coming, why didn't David Stern? It just seems so obvious that when no one can question the refs' calls and decisions, there is nothing to stop this kind of behavior. And since nothing has changed in the way that the NBA handles the officiating in aftermath of the betting scandal, there is nothing to stop it from happening again. And there is nothing to make the referees more accountable to call games without bias.
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 makes it very much less enjoyable to watch. If it frustrates me watching it, I know the players must be frustrated playing in a game where the officiating is so uneven. Some refs appear to have an agenda for or against certain teams or certain players. 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? The facts that came out in the Donaghy case prove that it isn't.
Inconsistency is also a problem with officiating. Some players get "star treatment" and can get away with things that role players or players that aren't so-called superstars on a team can't. And then there are the cases where one player is punished for something but another player is allowed to get away with the same thing. Why wasn't Kirk Hinrich suspended for a game in the playoffs for throwing his mouthpiece into the crowd during Game 1 of the Bulls' series with the Heat back in 2007, when Miami forward Udonis Haslem was suspended for a playoff game the year before that incident for throwing his mouthpiece on the floor? It's hard to understand how the league can be so very sure that one guy did something with intent, or malice, and another guy gets the benefit of the doubt. If you need any proof that a ref could have an agenda against a team, just watch Game 1 vs the Hawks in last year's playoffs. That's the one that ended up with Rondo being ejected for bumping Marc Davis after a series (actually a whole game) of absolutely horrible calls and non-calls.
Last season 66 technical fouls were given out in games that were later
rescinded by the league. That's nice that the league took the techs
away after the fact, thus admitting that their refs screwed up. But, in
some cases, that technical foul was a game changer and you can't go
back and give the team a re-take. Just the fact that the league had to
go in and take back 66 technical fouls that were assessed by refs and
later deemed not technical fouls speaks volumes about the competence of the
David Stern is very concerned about the integrity of the league. He instituted a dress code. He talks about the integrity of the league and cracked down on complaining because he said it was not good for the integrity of the league All of this is window dressing. The integrity of the league actually likes in how it is officiated. . Coaches, owners, and players all have questioned the integrity of the officiating and in many cases, they have very valid poins. 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. It was just a matter of time until a ref was caught betting on games they officiated because with no governing body to watch over them, and with David Stern giving them absolute authority, what is to stop them?
And now, Stern is replacing Ronald Johnson as the league’s senior vice president of referee operation with a long time league executive, Mike Bantom. He is definitely a company man and I'm sure he will answer directly to David Stern. I highly recommend Tim Donaghy's book "Personal Foul." It talks about the company men and sheds light on how referees approach the games. Stern has been quick to call for changes in the league in every other area 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. But of course we know he won't because he likes the power of absolute control. I wish I could have hope that the officiating will be better this season but the fact is, I'm expecting the same old, same old and all the frustrations that go with it.
If I remember correctly; Donaghy was not convicted of throwing games, or even betting on the games he refereed, but it was the passing on of information to the bookies, mostly the game day instructions given to his crew by league officials and if the circumstantial evidence of hundreds of cell phone calls has some weight those given to his buddy and still active, Scott Foster's crew. I have also long felt that Stern and his team have been trying to manage the outcome of games for years, by exactly this means and all Donaghy did was cash in on the nuances.
Thanks for the comment JB. You remember correctly. It was the passing of inside info to the bookies that Donaghy was convicted of. The FBI said that there was no clear evidence that he fixed the outcome of any games for betting purposes. He just used refs biases and tendencies to make his bets.
In his book, he talks about how refs subtly do change the outcomes of games and series. I believe what he said because we see the evidence of it constantly in games. And nothing has changed. Refs still have absolute authority and still make the same bad calls and still show their biases very clearly.