As sports fans have come to find out over the years, many officials that work the NCAA regular season and postseason tournaments, like their NBA and NFL counterparts, are not solely referees. Outside of their duties on the court, the vast majority rely careers in other fields to make a living. Unless they’re fan favorites like Ed Hochuli, you rarely hear about their lives away from the court—for instance, until today, most fans likely did not know that NCAA men’s basketball referee John Higgins runs a roof installation business. We know this now because petty Kentucky fans have made Higgins’s company the target of an online harassment crusade over the past 24 hours, all over some close whistles he did or didn’t blow in the Elite Eight.
Higgins called the UNC-Kentucky game this past Sunday, which the Tar Heels won 75-73. After an uneven first half in which foul trouble and shooting issues kept both teams from establishing any real rhythm, the two bluebloods started rolling in the final 20 minutes, producing the best final minute of the tournament (sorry, Florida). The game ended with Luke Maye’s last-second jumper to push UNC through to the Final Four.
After the game, Wildcat fans wept. After that, they took to the internet, pissed off that their beloved team could somehow fall in the Elite Eight.
It didn’t take long for Higgins to become their target—all throughout the first half, the Kentucky radio crew bashed the refs, calling out Higgins in particular. Coach John Calipari even took a shot at the officiating crew in his postgame press conference:
“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance. So proud of how these guys fought.”
One fan even put together a lowlight reel, meant to show blown calls by Higgins. (You’ll note that the Kentucky radio announcers also posit that these were bad calls; around the 4-minute mark in the first half, they single out Higgins, saying he is “dominating the whistle.”)
Upon review, the over-the-back and goaltending calls on Adebayo made in the first half look to be missed calls (though refs likely blew the whistle when Adebayo planted his elbow in Meeks’s neck on his way down), and the end-of-half drive by Fox could have been a quick trip to the line. But this is a tournament already full of bad calls—shit happens, and like shots, calls are missed.
So, rather than let it go, a coalition of Kentucky fans did what they felt was natural: Find out what Higgins does for a living and fill his business’s Facebook page with negative reviews and one-star ratings. The harassment reached a peak Tuesday afternoon. On one message board, a fan claimed he called up Higgins and personally let him know he sucks.
The online campaign was ultimately successful in disrupting Higgins’ business—after nearly 700 one-star reviews, the company took down its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon:
Here’s a sampling of some of the one-star reviews posted on the page before it was deleted:
All this effort and coordination over a handful of tight calls that could have hypothetically given Kentucky the two points it dearly needed at the end of regulation. If only there had been another way for the Wildcats to keep the Tar Heels from gaining that ever-so-slight edge: