Are Officials Working Too Many Games?

March 1st, 2010
It's a question that's come up quite a bit in recent years: are officials overworked? And the answer in the eyes of many (yes) is followed by the question of what the NCAA should do about it. It's far tougher to avoid the truth with many websites now allowing visitors to not only track refs by the number of games that they work but also by trends such as how many times they've called games involving one team all the way down to how many fouls per game each official averages. Add to this bit of technology the benefit of instant replay (with multiple angles) and the stripes are scrutinized at a level unheard of as recently as a decade ago.

But while the general consensus is that officials are in some cases working too many games in a given week, the same can't be said for possible solutions. This is where some misconceptions can cloud the picture, one of which being that the NCAA's Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officiating (John W. Adams) is the man responsible for the assignment of all officials throughout the nation. Not so, as I learned in a conversation with Adams last week.

His job from November to March (through the conference tournaments) is oversight, working with the 23 officiating coordinators who handle the 31 leagues in regards to which 96 officials will be selected to work the NCAA Tournament. Adams will also work with four regional evaluators who report back to him in order to aid with the process. Each of the automatic qualifying conferences is guaranteed at least one official, but with a lot of the better refs working for more than one conference the presence of officials who haven't called games involving either team in the NCAA Tournament decreases.

"You'd much rather have guys work teams they aren't familiar faces to early (in the tournament)," said Adams. "But with so much cross-officiating, the chances of having ‘neutrals' decreases." According to Adams the top college officials can work from twenty-five to twenty-six games in a month. By comparison NBA officials work no more than fourteen or fifteen games per month. So it's easy to see how the cries for officials needing rest can gain life when considering that NBA refs deal with just thirty cities in regards to travel ( writer Dana O'Neil shadowed Tim Higgins for an excellent story on how much travel is involved).

If the players and coaches can become fatigued throughout the course of a season due to the travel and they've got a game every few days, imagine how the officials may feel as the season wears on. Mr. Adams went on to make the point that regulating one's schedule is up to the individual officials as opposed to anyone else since they're independent contractors.

"Well they're independent contractors," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "What are you going to do? So Art (Hyland; coordinator of Big East officials) limits the number of games they can work in the Big East. They also work in the Big Ten; they work in the Big 12. Everybody wants good officials. And probably the truth be known, do you want guys you've had 50-60 times in your career or do you want a guy you've never seen before?"

And while cynics will line up to say that coaches will say these things in order to not anger the officials the "independent contractor" characterization is correct (in that case a "restriction of trade" -regulating the number of games an official can work- would be illegal).

"Those guys have to make a living just like you do and just like I do and that's how they do it," said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams when I asked him about this last week. "Some people say that [we] coaches work too hard." So with the number of games that officials call unable to be regulated by the NCAA it becomes even more important that the points of emphasis established at the beginning of the season are addressed. The three main points of emphasis according to Adams are:

1) The block/charge call in the basket area;
2) Swinging of the elbows;
3) Player interaction and sportsmanship.

"We've created absolutes and want to make sure that they're being followed," said Adams, and these are areas that he, his regional evaluators and the conference coordinators pay attention to throughout the course of the season.

Can fatigue lead to these areas being "neglected" at times? Certainly; in any profession a person's performance can be affected negatively by fatigue. But is it fair to say that whenever a guy makes a call that we don't agree with that he's "tired" and shouldn't be working? No, and the increased visibility of officials may bring on added problems as opposed to oversight. Just last week the Big East informed officials Jim Haney and Mike Kitts, who have worked many Big East Tournaments in the past, that they would not be working in this year's event due to calls missed towards the end of Louisville's 77-74 loss at West Virginia back on January 30th.

Are officials working too many games during the course of a season? You can definitely make the argument that they are. But what's the solution? You can also make the argument that there isn't a concrete answer to that question either.

Do you think officials are working too many games? If so, what would your solution(s) be?