The officiating in this NCAA tournament has ranged from bizarre to plain bad, a problem whose roots can be traced to the NBA scandal involving alleged point-shaving referee Tim Donaghy. The NCAA wanted to avoid any such nefariousness and subjected its potential tournament officials to background checks. Good idea.
Bad execution. Two of the college game's top officials, Jim Burr and John Higgins, found themselves ensnared in the process -- not because of background issues, but because of timing issues. For various reasons, Burr and Higgins weren't able to be cleared before the NCAA's deadline. Again, there was nothing objectionable about those two in particular. They've been allowed to officiate games in the 2008 NIT, also run by the NCAA. They just couldn't get cleared in time for the big event.
Removing two top officials from the NCAA tournament pool has done nothing to help the quality of the on-court product. The officiating for the Georgetown-Davidson game was almost as bad as Stephen Curry was good. Hoyas center Roy Hibbert in particular was treated unfairly, or incompetently, by officials who turned every 50-50 call against him ... and made some 90-10 calls against him as well. That's no excuse for the Hoyas. Even without Hibbert the Hoyas led Davidson by 17 in the second half. You don't blame that loss on the officials. But the officials were awful.
They might have been worse in Omaha, where my colleague Dennis Dodd was so appalled by the officiating that he devoted his entire column from his second-round game to the men in stripes.
And then you have Curtis Shaw, the most volatile official in the game. Shaw is the guy who ejected ISU coach Larry Eustachy in a 2000 Elite Eight game. He's the guy whom the SEC unofficially banned from working its games because of his temper And he's the guy who ejected Stanford's Trent Johnson on Saturday in the second round. Johnson became the fifth guy ejected from a game officiated this season by Shaw. Most zebras go an entire year without ejecting anyone.
It says something about the quality of officiating in college basketball when Curtis Shaw continues to work important games. Then again, there's a shortage of officials. Two of the best weren't eligible to work the 2008 NCAA tournament. Yet they were allowed -- by the NCAA -- to work the NIT. Explain that one.