CBSSports.com's college basketball trio of Gary Parrish, Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander spent the July recruiting period at various NCAA-sanctioned events, where they talked with coaches from all levels of the sport. Parrish, Borzello and Norlander asked for opinions on prospects, players, coaches and issues. Today is the pentultimate question in the series.
Nobody easier to toss acid at in sports than the refs, no matter who you are. And it's no news that coaches take out their frustration and sometimes blame their struggles on those in stripes, fair or not, legitimate or lazy. But when does it go beyond a blown call? When is the frustration stemming from something beyond an excuse or typical coaching paranoia? Was the infamous Sean Miller/Ed Rush debacle from March really an isolated incident? Do college coaches sense they've been targeted?
No -- some claim to know they have.
So this is the question we asked so many coaches -- to a lot of very interesting explanations inside of long-winded answers -- and it's our topic today.
Do you feel you or someone on your staff has ever been specifically targeted by an official or an officiating crew, a la the Ed Rush/Pac-12 controversy?
- Yes: 53 percent
- No: 38 percent
- Yes, but not to that extent: 9 percent
QUOTES THAT STOOD OUT:
"Yes, happened to me. Lead official can spoil an officiating crew's locker room and poison other two guys before the game. No question, this happens."
"Oh yeah, referees are human also and react to certain situations emotionally just like head coaches or assistant coaches do. In general, most of the officials are able to keep it compartmentalized. But somewhere in the 30-game season it happens. I believe it's the head of officials' job to communicate with the coaches and officials and keep those scenarios from happening."
"Yes ... ask any coach of color for a separate story."
"I think half of the officials out there target a coach or team every night. Guarantee games, the chance to work in a bigger conference, or making sure they stay in that conference all can be a major part of a ref's mindset. Not to say they are bad people, but it is just human nature. They hold grudges, they make calls to stick it to a coach or player, they make sure the favored team or more hyped team gets the benefit of the majority of calls. Officials have too much of an effect on games and not enough accountability. The NCAA should look to organize and streamline officiating."
"Guys always get calls. Officials get caught up, too. If they owe a favor or the conference needs someone to advance for attendance figures. It's big business."
"I think the situation in the Pac-12 -- and I don't know that league that well -- but I think what happened there is rare and extreme. I just don't think coordinators of officials are putting bounties on coaches. I don't believe that's a real issue. But I do think refs hold grudges, and I think it can affect how they call a game whether they know it or not."
"Yes, I think officials talk with each other and if you're a coach that works officials hard, then they already have a chip on their shoulders towards you. No, because I don't think a bounty has ever been put on anyone on our staff. That is probably one of the craziest things I've ever heard."
"Do I think I've ever got a bad whistle from a ref who doesn't like me? Yes. But I don't think a ref has ever decided up front to cost me a game or give me a tech. I just don't believe it works that way."
THE TAKEAWAY (BY MATT NORLANDER)
Fascinating topic. I think it was my favorite of the 10 questions we had, because this is clearly a real issue, one a lot of coaches were very willing to discuss (much more willing than I anticipated) yet can't in a public way because of the stigma that could follow. Many coaches waxed poetic -- off-record, including details they asked not to be printed -- on why this guy or that one had reason to target his team.
The sport has loads of coaches who legitimately believe there are referees with grudges against them or someone on their staff. They believe they've been unfairly targeted and that has cost them wins, perhaps even job promotions. These answers came from varying levels of programs, from high-major to low-level. To have this many coaches think refs are head-hunting, it's an eye-opener. We're not talking about mere foul disparity: We were very clear in presenting the question and hashing it out with coaches, and they feel some refs are morally wobbly when it comes to calling a true game.
So they then believe Sean Miller was merely the rare case that managed to go public. How and why? Because one official broke the code and talked. Whether or not you think college basketball officials do a good or bad job, the ongoing issue is mistrust between coaches and refs. It's fractured and very clearly a serious problem the NCAA should do it damnedest to remedy as quickly as possible.
On the other side of it, there are a lot of coaches who come at this in a very level-headed manner and simply say, "Hey, I do not believe officials are getting bribed in order to ring a coach up." Many told us that, flatly, they think the Miller thing had to be one-in-a-million, basically. Because at that point, how many shades away is the game from having a Tim Donaghy-like scandal?
This is no save-all solution -- because refs will forever be the primary target of passion and rage -- but I've always felt having at least one member of a crew open to the media, even if briefly, after games/calls that warrant explanation is always the way to go. It allows for more facts and more direct context, rather than stipulation and conjecture.