Official Take: Call Was Good, CJ Fair Guilty

Toms Take:  Tom is a certified IAABO official with many years of playing and officiating behind him.  After reviewing the end of the Syracuse game, this is his professional take on the game and the controversial foul with ten seconds to play.

As someone who’s been a player, coach, and official I can certainly relate to the emotional outburst by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim at the end of the Duke-Syracuse game. The charging call on C.J. Fair pretty much sealed the game for Duke and with Coach Boeheim also being assessed two technical fouls, the game was essentially over. Given my experience playing different roles on the basketball court, I’d like to give my perspective on the officiating from varying viewpoints.

First , the role a person plays in relationship to the game makes all the difference in the world.

Fans of course are typically very biased towards the team they are rooting for, and often vociferously express their opinions about plays and calls that go for or against their team. That’s their role, and why they are called fans (short for fanatic). Fans also vary widely in their knowledge of the game, some know the game very well, while others have very little knowledge and only come to cheer for their team.

Coaches are also biased towards their teams, for some similar and some different reasons. Coaches are not only rooting for their team, but because they are coach, their ego is also on the line in a very public fashion. Because of this, coaches can passionately express emotions about official’s calls, while at the same time remaining somewhat objective given their close proximity to the court and officials.

The official’s role is to be objective, and because they have no “horse in the race” can achieve this goal relatively easily. Despite what many people may think, officials are not biased towards any team in particular, and officiate the game the best they can based on the rules.

Although fans, coaches, and players alike think they know the rules, most often they don’t, at least not as well as the officials. Officials are really the only ones who truly know the rules and how they apply to the game on the court. Despite this, just about everyone has an opinion on calls made by officials, especially if they are perceived to impact the outcome of a game.

Notice I said perceived, because while officials no doubt have a role in determining the outcome of games, their role is usually not that pronounced.

Believe me, the last thing any official wants to do is to have their call decide a game, and the reality is they don’t… most of the time. Having said that, the timing of a call is crucial in how it’s perceived. If a controversial call is made in the first quarter of a game, fans may get upset, but usually will not belabor the point because they know there is plenty of game in which the play can be overcome.

When a call is made at the end of a game, it creates much more tumult because often there is not much time to overcome the perceived or real mistake by the official. This leads to everyone blaming the official for costing one team the game, when in fact, it was just another call in the game, it just happened to be at the end when there was no opportunity for the team to recover.

Let’s take the Duke-Syracuse game for example. C.J. Fair drives the baseline and Duke’s Rodney Hood comes to defend him and takes the charge (pictured above).

Now first let me say that this is one of the hardest calls in basketball, because an official has to see both the player with the ball, and the defender almost simultaneously, which can be very difficult. The other problem is that most people do not know the rule, and on top of it all, it’s somewhat of a judgment call to begin with.

Let me explain the rule first. The rule is the defensive player has to establish a legal guarding position before the offensive player begins his move towards the basket. Legal guarding position means the defender must have both feet on the floor, no more than shoulder-width apart, and be standing still for at least a split second prior to the offensive player making contact. The defender’s arms can be raised straight up, or can be by their side, or protecting their body. Once they’ve established a legal guarding position, they are entitled to slide or move in front of the offensive player to take the charge.

Now let’s look at the play in question. If you watch the replay it’s pretty clear that Rodney Hood establishes a legal guarding position prior to C.J. Fair starting his move to the basket, and remember, he is allowed to slide once he establishes position thus the call of a charge was the proper call.

My opinion regarding Coach Boeheim’s emotional reaction is that he may feel like that call cost him the game, but it didn’t. Having said that, I think the block-charge call elicits more emotional reactions than any other call mainly because it is not understood properly. In all honesty, it’s a call that likely could have gone either way.

Regarding Coach Boeheim getting the technical fouls at the end; he deserved them. I know Dick Vitale went on (ed. note – and on, and on, and on, and on)  about how a game should not end that way.  He was lobbying to give Boeheim a break, but when a coach goes out on the floor (he’s not allowed to do that), and also yells expletives in a referees face, and also jumps around like a wild-man (or a Baywatch lifeguard), he deserves to be tossed and should apologize for his unprofessional behaviors.

Despite common perception, at the end of the day, most games are decided by players and coaches. It’s much easier to blame an official than to say I didn’t play or coach well enough, yet that’s how you improve your performance. Official’s performances are critiqued after every game.

What would the reaction be if officials critiqued fans, players and coaches with the same microscope that they were so tediously examined with?