With so many games on television these days, there is no hiding in college basketball. When a game is decided at the buzzer, everyone sees it. When a player misses a free throw in a critical situation, everyone sees it. And when a coach spends too much time profanely berating the officials instead of coaching his players, everyone sees it.
So everyone could see UConn coach Jim Calhoun hurtling himself over the scorer’s table during the second half of the Huskies’ loss to Duke last Friday night at Madison Square Garden, even though subsequent replays showed Calhoun was wrong to argue the call. At least Calhoun had already been assessed a technical foul earlier in the game. The same can’t be said for West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose sideline comportment warranted multiple T’s but resulted in none during the Mountaineers’s win over Portland in the final of the 76 Classic in Anaheim.
Those are just two of many examples of coaches behaving badly I’ve seen during the first three weeks of the season. The NCAA has made player sportsmanship a point of emphasis this season, but unlike three years ago, when the National Association of Basketball Coaches requested stricter enforcement of the coaches’ box, there was no offseason edict requiring refs to reel in the men in suits. Curious to know if I was the only one who noticed this behavior, I dialed up John Adams, the NCAA’s supervisor of officials, on Wednesday afternoon. Adams wouldn’t name names, but he emphatically concurred – so much so that he will make coaching sportsmanship the top item on the agenda for his monthly conference call on Monday with officiating supervisors across the country.
“Every coordinator that’s on that call will hear from the national coordinator that I am pretty disappointed with where we are at this point with managing the unsporting sideline behavior of some of our coaches,” Adams told me. “We can do better.”
Adams said he noticed an “uptick” in the bad behavior while watching nearly two dozen games during Thanksgiving week and attending another two in person. While watching one game, he got a call from a member of the NCAA’s men’s basketball committee who was watching the same game and was similarly disgusted by a coach who was out of control. On Tuesday night, Adams received an email from a Division I coach expressing the same concern. This coach pointed out that the camera close-ups make it easy to read lips and discern precisely which off-color words the coaches are using.
There are two basic problems at work. First, because many of the early season tournaments are held at neutral sites with teams from several different conferences, they are often being officiated by refs with whom the coaches are not familiar. Second, refs are naturally reluctant to confront a high-profile coach with a technical foul, much less a second T that warrants an ejection. Even if a coach gets T’d up, that is not much of a detterent. Quite the contrary, in fact. As Calhoun demonstrated, coaches often see a technical foul as license to act even worse from then on, virtually daring the zebras to give them the heave-ho.
Having been an official himself, Adams has sympathy for referees who are slow to pull the trigger. “It’s human nature not to want to throw a coach out,” he said. However, he also intends to make clear that if referees fail to bring coaches into line, it will adversely affect their assignments for the NCAA tournament. “That’s not a threat. The only velvet hammer we have to order officials to be compliant with national officiating issues is to keep somebody out of the tournament,” he said. “It’s embarrassing for the game, but I’m hoping it’s an aberration. It’s awfully early in the season for us to be at each other’s throats.”