After making negative comments toward referees during their loss to Valparaiso this past Friday, Oakland’s Athletics Director and Director of Men’s Basketball Operations were suspended by the Horizon League. They both had to “sit out” Sunday’s game at Illinois-Chicago, which Oakland won. The one game suspension for poor sportsmanship, along with the negative publicity, is a start for a punishment. But all levels of basketball, from youth leagues to high school to college to pro, need to take a firmer stance against all forms of referee abuse. There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy with penalties that actually deter poor behavior, and are not just slaps on wrists. Officials can dole out penalties by issuing technical fouls, and eventually ejections to players and coaches who exhibit poor behavior. But it is not really an official’s job to police fans or administrators. Some people in the stands feel that it is okay to curse, berate, and yell at refs. For those who act that way toward refs, ponder this question: How would you like it if you are at your desk at work or in a meeting and people start belittling and screaming at you at the office? It probably would be distracting, make for an unpleasant environment, and make completing the work more difficult. (Now I realize that if you don’t ever want to be questioned or spoken to loudly, then officiating is not for you. There just needs to be a much better balance than there is today.) People need to understand that officiating any sport, especially basketball, is a very difficult job. Officials are human, so they have feelings and are allowed to make some mistakes. Fans who have the urge to scream at refs and yell vulgarities should be thrown out of the arena, and repeat offenders should be barred from future contests.
Most basketball officials have thick skin and can take verbal lashings, but that does not mean they should have to. Oakland’s AD and Director of Basketball Ops should be ashamed of themselves, as they should be held to higher standards than paying customers. Their actions were disgraceful to Oakland University, the Horizon League, and to the game of basketball. But the Horizon League also dropped with ball with the aforementioned weak penalty. C’mon, was their weekend ruined by not having to attend one game at last-place UIC? If the league really wanted to send a message, they would have suspended the duo for the rest of the season. This would include Friday’s rivalry game against Detroit Mercy, the ensuing Horizon League Tournament, and any postseason tournament games as Oakland will definitely get some kind of berth. This suspension, coupled with a monetary fine, would be appropriate. Oakland University should step up and suspend them both for the rest of the season. This would set a strong precedent across the entire country that poor sportsmanship toward referees will not be tolerated by anyone under any circumstances. But since nearly a week has elapsed from the incident, Oakland has dropped the ball too.
For as much as people criticize it for the sometimes lack of exciting games, the NBA does a pretty good job in penalizing abuse toward officials. Players receive progressive fines starting at $2,000 for each technical foul. If a player hits number 16 in a season, he earns a $5,000 fine plus a one game suspension. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been fined many times for his very public outbursts toward referees. Players and coaches who choose to criticize referees after games are also met with stiff fines.
Fans need to step up by policing one another in the stands. If someone near you is yelling at the officials, turn around and tell them to cut it out. Use discretion when doing this because some hotheads cannot be reasoned with. In that case, it is better just to tell someone in arena management or crowd control. People yelling at officials makes for a negative environment that takes away from everyone’s enjoyment of the game. Some states have stepped up to the plate by making it an automatic felony for someone who assaults a game official. Those types of laws are important. But it is the hope that those ugly incidents just would never happen. People sometimes just need to relax and remember that it is just a game. Ironically, it is more than that for officials because they are the gatekeepers of the game.
Officials, such as the three who worked the Oakland/Valpo game, should be commended because they take the high road by not engaging with spectators who yell at them. They had a great game by calling the play on the court fairly and to the best of their abilities, and by displaying constant professionalism and teamwork. Just because officials will never get every call right, does not mean they will stop trying to. And the respect that officials constantly show others needs to be mutual.