Friday, October 2, 2009

No news is good news when it comes to referees... so we're told

With the regular NBA refs locked out, replacement refs get good marks from the Utah Jazz after their preseason opener with the Denver Nuggets. The refs even thwarted a grade-school level trick by the Denver Nuggets when a player tried to take free throws for another player but the refs caught the Nuggets in the act. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

Despite the fact that referees Trey Maddox, Deldre Carr and C.J. Washington called 69 fouls and the Jazz and Nuggets combined to shoot 88 free throws, the participants were generally happy with the officiating.

"Most of the time they did a pretty good job, I think," (Jazz player Mehmet) Okur said.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who seemed upset with a call only once in a game that took 2 hours, 34 minutes to complete, agreed.

"I thought they did fine," he said. "I don't have a problem with that. Then again, we can't spend our time worrying about those guys.

"They're learning, we're learning and you've got to give everybody a chance to [move] forward. I hope everything goes great for them because it makes it easier for us."

In 21 1/2 minutes, (Jazz guard) Deron Williams shot only two free throws.

No problem.

"The officials were good," he said. "I thought they did a good job. They didn't look like replacements to me."

... "I thought they were good," (C.J.) Miles said. "We were able to talk to them. They were responsive. They called it both ways. ... They did a good job for their first game."

I can see the point that this story and other news outlets are trying to make: The replacement refs didn't do anything out of line to get anyone's attention, and by the 'no news is good news' mantra, this indicates the replacements can be trusted to call a clean game down the middle.

What's funny about the Salt Lake Tribune's story is that is does not once mention the final score of the game. Granted, it's preseason and the results don't matter (and the other outlets did mention the score, though they downplayed it), but it's common practice at least number-drop the final score early in the piece. In an attempt to make it clear there's no story, the media outlets make the replacement refs the story.

The NBA did reiterate their longstanding policy of a $25,000 fine to anyone who ever criticizes the officiating, a troublesome policy that has reinforced the questionable, bias officiating over the years that has helped drag down the quality of competition in the NBA. So it's likely the teams and their media mouthpieces alike are all going out of their way to sugar-talk the refs in an attempt to play nice with a league that's got enough problems as they try and hash out a deal with arguably pro sports' worst groups of officials.

Given the money issue, it's actually in the NBA's best financial interests to wash out the ref's union and go full-time with the replacements, and smoothing the tracks for their replacement officials may be a key step in that. One could make the general arguemtn that the quality of replacement officiating is worse than the incumbent officiating, but in the age of Tim Donaghy, Superstar calls and curiously slanted officiating in key playoff games... I can't say the NBA or we as sports fans would lose all that much quality in letting the incumbents walk away... especially if the replacements, as C.J. Miles said, call the games both ways.

... for a change.

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