North Texas Daily

Referees keep working through criticism and controversy

Referees keep working through criticism and controversy

Referees keep working through criticism and controversy
February 17
23:34 2014

Ehsan Azad // Staff Writer

Plenty of times during any sports event, yells of disagreement and insults will come after the sound of a whistle from a referee. Officials must learn to embrace that type of response in one of the most scrutinized careers in sports.

Officials are an essential part of any sporting event, enforcing the rules and giving legitimacy to the game.  Fans, coaches and players try to influence the decisions, but the referees are trained to resist that kind of thinking.

Conference USA officiating head Curtis Shaw knows from experience how much people try to sway the referees towards a certain call. He’s officiated at the Division I college basketball level for more than 21 years and has called games at seven Final Fours of the NCAA Tournament.

“Every given night, everybody in that gym has an opinion about one team or the other,” Shaw said. “The referees, the three guys with them, are the only three that don’t care.”

Shaw said there are many requirements to become an official, starting with working up from middle school to the junior college level. Then, the detailed work to find a qualified official begins.

“You have to be very knowledgeable of the rule book, you have to be physically fit to run up and down the court and you have to display the competency to make the split-second decisions necessary to referee basketball games,” Shaw said. “Not everybody has that talent.”

One big controversy surrounding referees is gambling on games, which was brought to attention by former NBA ref Tim Donaghy’s admission to betting on games he officiated in 2007. Shaw said a lot of help comes from Las Vegas, which lets the NCAA enforcement board know of any suspicious bets or behaviors. The board also goes through precautions when hiring officials.

“We do background checks, so we know if any criminal activity is going on,” Shaw said. “We also check to see if any financial status is shaky.”

Shaw said that he called the game very strict in his time as a referee and started great relationships because of his fairness and was respected by coaches. He also got to know the players, who eventually learned to let Shaw handle any heated situations in the game.

“When we had kids that stayed three or four years, you learned who they were and they knew who you were,” Shaw said.  “You try to calm them down, say ‘Hey, relax and we’re going to handle it.’”

The respect that Shaw maintained has trickled down to his officials, and the UNT basketball teams are fond of the relationship they have with them. Men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford said his relationship is much more cordial with the referees and tries to keep it professional.

Benford said he knows the referees have a job to do and that nothing is personal.  He said he only worries about what he can control and tries to have an open line of communication with them during games.

“You always try to have the great relationship with the officials,” Benford said. “We’re not best friends. I don’t think any coach is.”

Women’s head basketball coach Mike Petersen takes a more comedic approach to his relationship with the referees.

“My goal is to make every one of them laugh before halftime,” Petersen said.

Petersen said his relationship is always good with the referees, but admits there will be disagreements as well.

“I am not going to agree with them all the time, that’s life – ‘#life,’” Petersen said. “I am going to tell them what I think, but you can’t get so caught up with the officials that you stop playing and stop coaching.”

The players try not to worry about the referees as much as they can.

“I just don’t even think about them,” men’s junior forward Colin Voss said. “Sometimes, I try to sweet talk them, but that backfires sometimes.”

The officiating is a controversial subject in the world of sports, but if Shaw still maintains that with the right attitude and ‘no nonsense’ approach to officiating, it won’t matter.

“I am always talking about professionalism, both on and off the floor,” Shaw said. “99 percent of time, the players and coaches respect what we do.”

Feature photo: Byron Jarrett, left, and Rick Crawford wait for the players to return from a timeout at the home game on Saturday night against East Carolina University. Crawford and Jarrett have 23 years of combined refereeing experience. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

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