Will there ever be a complaint-free game?By Sev Sarmenta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
WE’VE all seen this: At whatever level, players, coaches and fan complain about officiating in hoops, whether it’s the interpretation of the rules, an alleged bias or the perceived incompetence of the refs.
Is basketball the only sport where it’s possible to complain about every call?
I suppose it’s the unlimited times that basketball refs have to or don’t use their whistles that gets people all riled up.
The speed of the game is a factor but the rules govern so many situations that could go either way: Who touched the ball last before going out? Was it blocking or charging? Was it a backing violation? Was it a three-point shot or not?
Coaches and players are infuriated the most on whether a foul is committed or not. The offensive team wants to keep possession or get two free throws if a shot doesn’t drop. The defensive team may feel there was no foul in a play and wonders to high heavens why the ref blew the whistle.
The pressure of winning puts all those involved on pins and needles about every piece of officiating. There is a craving for every conceivable advantage since basketball is a game of possessions—the more times you have the ball, the more chances of scoring and winning.
Some mentors complain simply because it’s part of “working the refs,” a strategic ploy that makes the officials know that the coaches are on to every single play.
Jonathan Abrams, in a 2008 New York Times piece said, “The tenuous relationship between coaches and officials in the NBA runs a gamut of emotions during the 48 minutes of a game. It travels from chummy to combative in a flash, and it is special to basketball because of the proximity of everyone involved: Officials cross in front of coaches on the sideline every few seconds.”
Since the refs are practically within reach, expressing one’s sentiments about the officiating at hand seems so natural. Complaining will simply not disappear.
The NBA, the PBA and some collegiate leagues spend an enormous amount of time, resources and effort to come up with the most reasonably well-called game.
It’s impossible, of course, given the human factors and frailties that affect split-second decision-making. But that doesn’t prevent the leagues from working on their refs which includes keeping the good ones and taking out the bad eggs.
Calm complaints during the game within reason is good form and refs must recognize legitimate questions or clarifications. Technical fouls help prevent coaches and players from exploding each time anyway, although many players and coaches tempt the refs to call the “T” so that they can vent out their frustrations.
As to whether a coach getting two technicals and ejection really pumps up a poorly performing team remains to be proven.
In high-profile leagues, though, complaining about officiating to the media is tricky and can be misunderstood. A walk-out never solves anything because there are more frayed nerves than there were before the act.
Leagues never like these because they do upset the stability of the organization.
Some say that if you don’t notice the refs in a game, they’re doing a good job. The refs pray for a complaint-free game but that’s not going to happen as long as there’s pressure to win.
Complaining can be managed, though, with consistency and communication.
Coaches and players must feel they’re getting a fair shake even if they don’t get every call. The refs will just have to do the best possible job and everybody will have to live with every call or non-call.
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