NCAA officials remember their toughest calls
by Mike Lopresti, USA TODAY Sports
The question to the guys in stripes was simple. What’s the toughest March college basketball game you ever worked?
The officials feel the heat of the month just like the players, when one wrong whistle can bring national infamy, what with a dozen slow-motion angles to be shown of every call. “Or more,” Ed Hightower, a veteran of 12 Final Fours, said.
They all have their stories, with their feelings about their perilous craft slipping through their words.
Ted Hillary, who’s worked four Final Fours, picked Duke’s 85-77 win over Georgetown in the 1989 regional final.
“We were so exhausted by halftime and our whistles almost fell apart because we blew them so much,” he said. “The officials are also trying to advance, and we were told to call fouls. We know now that’s a bunch of bull, but we were young and dumb and kept calling fouls. I looked at these two guys (partners David Jones and Tom Harrington) and said, ‘Don’t stop or we are going to have nothing but fights. We’re not going to have a basketball game.’ The teams would have to adjust, but they didn’t adjust. They just kept fouling.
“We came in afterward and I was so tired, I thought I could care less if I go to the Final Four. But they took all three of us.”
Jim Burr, a veteran of 16 Final Fours, mentioned Michigan State’s 94-88 double overtime win over Kentucky in the 2005 regional. Patrick Sparks’ 3-pointer at the buzzer of regulation saved Kentucky temporarily, but only after a prolonged study of the replays proved his toe was not on the line. Burr gazed into a monitor, having to possibly decide a team’s Final Four fate.
“We had to finally get a blow-up of it,” Burr said. “It came down to the guys in the (TV) truck being able to bring up the kid’s foot. It took almost seven, eight minutes to where they finally got, thank God, the proper shot to … [For more on NCAA tournament officials remember their toughest calls, click here.]