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One Game At A Time

I couldn’t help but notice

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As the collegiate season in Metro Manila reaches a frenzied state because of the tightness of playoff races, coaches, players and communities are on pins and needles. It’s not only because of the nail-biting nature of the games which is usually a given in college hoops but also because the referees and their calls are getting their share of the limelight as well.

League commissioners in the country have tried everything to gain sympathy for the men (and sometimes women) with the whistles. They don’t like columns like this because it calls attention to the refs when they are: one, doing everything possible to be fair and on top of each play, and two, just human and prone to mistakes.

Let’s face it. Everything that can be argued about officiating has been argued: From consistency to being in the best position to execute officiating mechanics, from being alert in the assessment of infractions to being judicious in determining possession.

Coaches and teams want to win and will try everything, including “working the refs,” as Americans call it, to gain any edge from free throws to extra possessions.  They engage the officials, even with amusing side comments without using up much of the rope that refs extend to the tense coaches.

I have often heard that the best officiated game is one where you do not notice the referees and it flows naturally with only slight complaints or disappointments from the playing parties. I believe that you begin to notice the refs when the whole coliseum sees an infraction and the “zebras” don’t see anything at all.

They are also noticeable in the endgame and when the controversial dictum takes over that refs shouldn’t decide or affect the outcome. Coaches know that refs won’t call a foul unless it’s so blatant or won’t whistle at all because they are fearful of being accused of deciding the game.

Many coaches have learned to live with these but still go ballistic when they don’t get a call in the endgame.

I have often pitched that referees should learn how to communicate their authority and control of the game not by merely giving out technical fouls or throwing out players or coaches. The body language and communication skills of the refs are just as important as their basketball know-how.

I have seen a number of NBA games live and the refs walk in with authority and transmit early that they are in charge. Their posture and even their grooming communicate that they will be fair but firm.

NBA refs also don’t get every call right but they don’t linger with the mistake by shuddering in front of a ranting coach or by doing the horrible “make-up” call.  I relish it when the NBA announcers point it out when they feel the refs bungle a play or do a make-up call to appease the previously aggrieved side. It’s really a mistake trying to correct a mistake.

I like the T-shirts going around that say “Keep calm” and do something else. They say these have roots in the British calls to remain steadfast at the height of the Nazi bombings. Maybe everybody should stay cool, including the refs.


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