NBA and college basketball must align rules for better refereeing

Mar 21, 2022, 4:31 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm
Christian Koloko #35 of the Arizona Wildcats and Mike Miles #1 of the TCU Horned Frogs compete for ...
Christian Koloko #35 of the Arizona Wildcats and Mike Miles #1 of the TCU Horned Frogs compete for the ball during the second half in the second round game of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Viejas Arena at San Diego State University on March 20, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Basketball referees are universally loathed. They are harassed by players, booed by fans and exposed by instant replay. They have one of the hardest jobs in America.

Or somehow the sport keeps hiring the wrong people.

Contempt runs deep. A frightening percentage of sports fans believe NBA refs are corrupt, willing to commit felonies, tilt playing fields and determine outcomes. In college basketball, they are perceived as irreparably incompetent. And that is certainly the case on occasion. Namely, Pac-12 games.

Basketball officials promptly announced their shortcomings in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, losing control of Baylor vs. North Carolina, where even Duke fans felt bad for the Tar Heels; where a technical foul was absurdly assessed against an Illinois player for hanging on the rim, subverting a huge momentum swing; and where a no-call at the end of regulation helped save Arizona from the ignominy of another hasty Tournament exit.

Predictably, the reaction from some Wildcats fans is commensurate to the inferiority complex that permeates much of the campus and the city of Tucson. They are bristling with indignation and what-about-isms. How dare you say we were lucky? Didn’t you see that no-call in the eighth minute of the first half?

There are photos that suggest TCU guard Mike Miles committed a backcourt infraction before he was mugged by an Arizona defender. Just like the photo that proves Santonio Holmes didn’t beat the Cardinals with a game-winning catch in the Super Bowl.

Reminder: Still photos only tell partial stories. In real time, we all saw the end of the Super Bowl and the mugging that occurred at midcourt. And the Tournament should feel incredibly lucky that Dalen Terry’s potential game-winning dunk occurred after time expired.

Especially with new reports that the scoreboard operator in San Diego momentarily stopped the clock, assuming a whistle was forthcoming after Terry’s apparent foul. That effectively added another second for Arizona to win the game in transition. If Terry shoots the ball sooner, the endgame travesty might be consuming March Madness.

At some point, the NBA must educate the public on how hard it is to officiate basketball games featuring the world’s greatest athletes competing on a 3D playground: left to right, front to back, in the air and well above the rim. College basketball must find a way to pay small-school refs enough money to improve the overall pool of qualified workers. Both sports must align their rules and regulations to create a better working model for everyone.

For now, I am thankful the Arizona-TCU game was reset and the best team prevailed in overtime. I appreciate these Wildcats and how they run, dunk and pass the ball. I appreciate their new head coach who does not sweat through his dress shirts and glare at out-of-town reporters. I want Arizona to win an NCAA Tournament, just like I want the Suns to win the NBA Finals.

In a divisive time when we are brainwashed into believing one side must constantly rage at the other, I want Tucson and Phoenix to win successive basketball trophies. To exchange a knowing nod of respect and a metaphorical fist bump. That would make a powerful statement to the rest of the basketball world. And then the sport can get busy fixing its officiating crisis.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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NBA and college basketball must align rules for better refereeing