John Adams started refereeing basketball games for grocery money.
He’s leaving the sport as the head of college basketball officiating. On Thursday, the 65-year-old Adams said he will retire following April’s national championship game. Adams took the job in 2008-09 and said it was the "perfect time" to leave following a championship in his hometown.
"Since I’ve been out of the military I’ve only had six jobs," said Adams, who served in the Indiana and New York Air National Guard from 1971-77. "I told the first (NCAA) committee I worked for that I felt like I was living the dream, and I told the committee yesterday that I was still living the dream. How else does a guy like me get involved in arguably the best sporting event?"
The NCAA said a search for a replacement will begin this fall.
For more than four decades Adams attended 50 to 60 college games each year to evaluate officials and better acquaint himself with refs, coaches, conference coordinators and reporters. He earned the respect of many with quiet, respectful explanations about questionable calls and controversial decisions.
It was a long way from his start — officiating intramural games at Indiana State, the school he graduated from in 1971. Adams didn’t make it back to the court until 1973 after seeing a couple of poorly officiated high school games.
"I thought, `Man, I’m better than these guys and I should be a ref,’ " he said. "I did it, literally, to make ends meet."
Adams said he used the $17 paychecks to buy food for himself and his new wife, and he never turned away from the game he loved again.
Adams served as officiating coordinator for three conferences with headquarters in central Indiana — the Horizon League, the Great Lakes Valley Conference in Division II and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in Division III.
He also spent nine years evaluating refs at the NCAA tournament. But until 2004, he was still a part-timer in officiating circles and a full-timer in financial services. Four years later, Adams was promoted to national coordinator of the men’s basketball refs, succeeding Hank Nichols.
The silver-haired Adams, a familiar face in the Midwest, soon became a national figure who worked routinely with all the officials, conference coordinators and regional advisers.
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA vice president for men’s basketball, credited Adams with providing more consistency and clarity in calling games and creating more defined standards. Gavitt also thanked Adams for improving communication among officials, coaches and media.
"We’ve gotten younger, more athletic and more diverse in officiating, and I think the officiating has gotten better," Adams said. "So the goals I set out six years ago, we accomplished," Adams said. "It is time and it’s also a chance to do it in my hometown. It’s kind of a perfect storm."