The good and bad about using replacement refs

BY foxsports • September 21, 2009

Referees are not my favorite people, and vice versa. In fact, I led the CBA in technical fouls accumulated in each of my six years as a head coach there. At best, I've always considered the entire profession of officiating ballgames at whatever the level to be a necessary evil. Even so, I am unwilling to take sides in the latest financial jockeying between the refs' union and the NBA.




However, I am prepared to suggest that there would/will be positives as well as negatives should the season start with substitute officials working the games.

The minuses are obvious:

  • Too many incorrect calls will skew the games and occasionally cheat a team out of what should have been a hard-earned victory.

  • The bad calls will also raise the temperatures of the players and the coaches and lead to more physical confrontations, which is precisely why an abundance of flagrant fouls will undoubtedly be called.

  • Both the players and the coaches will try to intimidate the replacement refs, while the imposter refs will resort to a bevy of techs to try to establish their authority.

  • The games will lack any semblance of consistency and continuity.

  • Players who play poorly, as well as losing coaches, will blame the refs for any unsatisfactory results. This will only exacerbate NBA players' tendency to avoid taking personal responsibility for any and all undertakings that have less than optimum outcomes.

    On the other hand, having games overseen by replacement referees might also have several surprisingly positive effects:

  • The replacements' young legs would enable them to keep pace with fast breaks and breakaways. If an old coot like Dick Bavetta (who will be 70 come December) couldn't shuffle quickly enough to out-pace the blubbery Charles Barkley in their match race, what kind of angles can he have on any abrupt change-of-direction sequences? Moreover, many of the more senior refs believe they are the stars of the show. (Bavetta again!) Forcing some of the arrogant, slow-footed old-timers into retirement would eventually be worth all of the turmoil.


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  • The new refs will not be burdened with any holdover grudges against players who might have dissed and/or embarrassed them in the past. Like elephants, refs do possess long memories and, like jilted lovers, are always looking for revenge.

  • Veteran refs routinely permit veteran players to transcend the rules by letting them take extra steps, linger in the lane and commit fouls that are ignored. In addition, because refs always know how many fouls a star player is carrying, oftentimes fouls blatantly committed by these players — especially late in games — are commonly pinned on lesser teammates who happen to be in the vicinity. (More than any of his colleagues, Bavetta panders to the league's highest profile players.) It is to be expected the replacement refs will show no such bias and will indeed call them as they see them.

  • Perhaps the players and coaches will transcend their frustrations and, for the good of the game, cooperate with the novice refs as a way of surviving the problem with dignity, grace, professionalism and good will.

  • Since players are already used to altering their games to suit the inclinations of whichever refs are on the court, they should have little difficulty adjusting to the personal quirks of the replacements. This guy calls charges. That guy calls blocks. And so on. In other words, business as usual.

  • If the participants are patient, the new refs will eventually get the hang of NBA action. And here's the best thing that a lockout of the refs would bring about: No matter who the newbies might be, none of them could possibly be any worse than Violet Palmer.


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