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Officials deserve support this time

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published November 12. 2013 4:00AM


All together now: Here we go officials, here we go (clap, clap).

Here we go officials, here we go (clap, clap).

No, really. The time has come to embrace our inner whistle and remind the stripes to stay strong. For real this time.

They have been assigned to enforce, perhaps militantly so, handchecking in college basketball this season. That's when the defensive player uses one or both of his hands or his arm to impede the forward or lateral movement of the offensive player. Or as one coach says, "any attempt to re-route the offensive player on the way to the basket."

Emphasis on handchecking has been a familiar hymn in years past, often going the way of the post-New Year's Day diet: vigorous at the beginning, but with a gradual regression back to the norm. And so we arrive at Groundhog Day again, with the game's poohbahs huffing and puffing about "cleaning up the game," allowing athleticism's rebirth, more scoring and more flow.

"Our game is where the NBA was about 2000 or so, organized wrestling matches. The only way to stop it is if fouls are called," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said recently on a conference call. "This will bring freedom of movement back into the game, and we have to stick with it."

Curtis Shaw, coordinator of officials for the Big 12, told USA Today, "The forearm is our kids' favorite move these days. It's a foul. Don't play with your arms on the offensive player."

UConn women's coach Geno Auriemma:

"The theory is that if you foul on every single possession, the refs will get tired of calling it and you'll get away with murder," he said. "People talk about how bad officials are. At the end of every game when you watch film, officials are never as good as you wanted them to be and never as bad as you thought they were.

"We coach kids in this country to foul. Somebody's quicker than you, punch them. Can't keep somebody in front of you? Grab them and hold them. It's the way the game's been taught for a long time. I'm glad Jay said that and put it on the coaches. Our job is to teach them and coach them the right way, not to put it all on the officials to make the calls. It starts with the coaches."

They're the ones complaining the loudest. Larry Brown at SMU called the new rules "scary." This from a man who mastered the 78-75 tractor pull in the NBA. Note to Larry: The Showtime Lakers and Bird Celtics were way more fun to watch than what followed them. And you coached what followed them: games suddenly measured by first downs.

"Coaches who are complaining about it, it's laughable. 'Can't defense the dribble-drive?' That's laughable," Bilas said. "All the things they are complaining about were fouls in the 80s. People talk about the skill players had in Jerry West's day. You couldn't touch anyone in Jerry West's day."

We've heard the carping before. Is this the year the officials will be more stubborn than the coaches, players and general cacophony? Because that's the only way progress happens.

It won't be pretty. Seton Hall vs. Niagara over the weekend produced 73 fouls and 103 foul shots. That's not what anybody wants to see. Still, the officials need to stay strong and lay the responsibility to adjust on the coaches, players and intelligentsia.

"I think there'll be a slight spike in the number of fouls," John Adams, the National Coordinator for Men's Basketball Officiating told the Harrisburg Patriot News. "For anywhere from I hope three to six or eight weeks until players and coaches adjust to officials paying more attention to illegal contact on players with the ball on the perimeter. That's really where this rule is focused.

"If we're going to pay attention to those issues, there are likely going to be more fouls. But I don't think our job is to call more fouls. It's to enforce the rules. And that ought to be good for the game."

So for the moment, leave the officials alone. This is what The Game wants. A little patience might make for a fun tournament.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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