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Hutton: Officiating should never influence the outcome of games

Crown Point coach Clint Swan reacts play IHSAA boys sectional game with Michigan City. Thursday Feb. 28 2013 Michigan City

Crown Point coach Clint Swan reacts to play in a IHSAA boys sectional game with Michigan City. Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Michigan City, Ind. |Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 7, 2013 6:31AM



I am going to break my own cardinal rule here and write about officiating, which is typically an impossible, rational discussion to have in any setting.

Can’t help myself — this needs to be said as the regionals heat up:

Let’s not forget about the good, old warning for the coaches, who are working hard to advocate for their team in very tense situations before a technical is called. This isn’t college or NBA basketball, but there is still plenty at stake for the coaches and players in tournament situations.

Twice in the last month, veteran officials have teed up Crown Point coach Clint Swan and Andrean coach Carson Cunningham without any advanced notice.

Some years back, former Merrillville coach Jim East, incensed about the officiating after a tough loss to Munster, implored me to explore the topic in the game story. In his eyes, bad refereeing had affected the game greatly. “You saw it. Why don’t you write about it?” he pleaded after the game. I did then, but probably not in the way he wanted.

A decade later, I’m going to take East’s advice because I saw what happened with my own eyes and I did hear what Swan said, and it’s worth talking about.

Here is the scene with context:

Swan, who had hardly worked the officials much all night in the Bulldogs’ 69-54 loss to Michigan City in the opening round of sectionals, was upset when John Goss called a foul on a Crown Point defender as Ryan Taylor was going up for a layup and then counted the subsequent basket. Didn’t seem like a good call to me at all, either, but I haven’t watched the film yet.

At the very least, it was a call that was debatable, which should’ve allowed for some back and forth between the two. While Taylor was shooting the free throw, Swan called it a “terrible” call. Goss didn’t turn around. Then, a few seconds later, Swan called it a “horrible” call. Goss didn’t turn around. A few seconds later, Swan said this isn’t the “NBA.” Boom! He finally had Goss’ attention. He turned around and gave him a technical. Was Goss within his right to call the technical? Sure, he can do it at his discretion and he absolutely had heard enough.

But there wasn’t one person within earshot of that conversation and saw the play that I talked to that didn’t A) feel perfectly awful for Swan, and B) feel like he deserved some prior warning — a glance from Goss, a few words — some attempt to diffuse the situation.

The other problem is that the game turned on the technical. Crown Point trailed 41-39 with 1:56 left before the technical. The Wolves scored seven straight after the infraction. The game was over, with a muted Swan, sitting mostly ashen on the bench. That technical turned out to be the equivalent of sending a guy to jail for speeding.

The game was brutally physical, the most physical game I had covered all year. There was a double foul called, two technical fouls and blood on the floor from a Crown Point player after he took an inadvertent elbow from a Michigan City player. It got so rough that Goss stopped play to calmly conference with coaches and players about the situation in the second half.

It was just disappointing from an objective fan’s perspective to have a game turn to mush because of that situation, which was avoidable.

I get that the game moves fast, the officials are human and they don’t get paid nearly enough to endure the abuse that is inevitably showered upon them for a thankless job.

I also get that Goss had no idea what was going to happen after he called the technical. Sometimes, it goes the other way — a team gets perfectly fired up about getting the technical.

I rarely, however, see it happen in high school basketball because coaches can’t stand up after getting called for a technical. The rule does its job, which I’m not sure is a good thing, either. It turns coaches into mannequins. It’s much harder to even scream out plays and position players when you’re forced to sit on the bench.

I also get that officials signed up for the abusive job because they want to do it and they understand the deal. It’s as exciting for them to work a big game as it is for coaches to coach in them, players to play in them and writers to write about them.

Short of a profanity laced tirade, a coat-throwing episode, a chair-kicking incident or a saliva bath, let’s do the warning thing for the sake of the coaches and officials alike, who certainly don’t want to be the talk of the game well after it’s over.



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