Complaining about officiating after a loss is one of the more annoying things that a sports fan can do. Coming from a coach or player who has just suffered a tough loss that they feel was unfairly called, the complaint may be easier to stomach, but it still doesn’t really sit right. It comes across as an excuse, a way to place the responsibility of the loss on anyone but your own team. God knows I’ve been guilty of blaming it on the refs before — most of us probably have been at one point or another, as much as we hate it coming from anyone else. A badly-reffed game is usually forgotten after a couple weeks. But this year’s tournament is another story altogether.
The officiating in this year’s March Madness tournament goes beyond a couple disgruntled fans who thought that a controversial foul should have gone the other way in their 7-10 upset pick. It’s been memorably bad across the board — a swallowed whistle that helped decide a first-round Iowa-Richmond upset, a missed goaltend on Texas Tech in a close game against Notre Dame, a no-call on Baylor essentially tackling UNC’s Caleb Love at half court in a game that went to overtime (and, really, the entire second half of the Baylor-UNC game). That godawful technical on the Illinois player for hanging on the rim rather than launching himself into the crowd and endangering his body. And that’s just a few that come to mind off the top of my head.
With the small pool of highly-ranked college officials to choose from, many of the refs who made those calls or officiated the games in which those calls and no-calls happened will continue onto the Sweet Sixteen this weekend and into the rounds beyond — meaning that we’re going to be forced to continue to watch this shitshow of ignoring clear fouls, made extra hard to stomach by the intensity of the single-elimination format. “Just one game” is the only game at this point.
An anonymous athletic director told Sports Illustrated, “This is the first time in a while that the officiating is a story. That’s disappointing.” A coach suggested to SI that one of the tournament officials has “got to be going in the Big 12 Hall of Fame this summer,” and should not have been allowed to call a game with a team from his conference playing.
And the worst part of it all is that all we can do right now is complain. And ref complainers are, as previously stated, the worst. Quite frankly, it’s not as though the NCAA is suddenly going to just overhaul their game officiants because people on Twitter are annoyed. They’ve got bigger problems to deal with right now. Also, they’re adamantly denying that there is any issue with the tournament reffing.
At the very least, we can all commiserate over this. The calls have, for the most part, been bad on both sides of the ball and across the board this tournament. It’s everyone vs. the refs, who aren’t regulating the game, but adding a bizarre extra challenge to overcome in an already notoriously unpredictable tournament.
Should we find inner peace by embracing the bad reffing as part of the madness? That’s about the only solution I can think of right now. Otherwise we’re going to have a collective aneurysm at some point in the next two weeks when some kid gets suplexed and the refs look the other way or some bullshit like that.
Per SI, two of the Baylor-UNC officials somehow ended up ranked high enough to move onto the next round (rankings are determined after the game through feedback from neutral parties and administrators from the tournament schools). So keep your eye out on the South and East regions this weekend if you want to spike your blood pressure.