March Madness officiating a new ballgame
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
John Adams has the best — and most stressful — seat in the house during the first two days of the NCAA tournament.
He’ll sit in a control room in Atlanta, planted firmly in the host city of the Final Four. He’ll watch every game simultaneously, keeping tabs on calls officials make and miss. If he wants to see a specific clip, he can holler for a producer to cue it up.
Access to all the games, all the time, sounds like the ideal setup for March Madness. But when you’re the NCAA coordinator of officials, every moment is also a nanosecond away from controversy. One missed call, and the chorus of boos and criticism begins. And, for the first time all season, there’s one target.
During college basketball’s regular season, officials are independent contractors. They choose the leagues they want to work for and how many games they want to do. They answer to league officiating coordinators, who are limited in their authority, including not being able to levy fines.
But now, as the season moves from the conference tournaments this weekend to the NCAA tournament starting Tuesday, the entire officiating system will change. After a careful evaluation and a season-long vetting process, the chosen referees fall under the direction of Adams. They no longer affiliate with conferences; instead, they are assigned to crews with officials from all over the country; some they know, others they don’t. They’re working games of coaches they know and coaches they don’t.
Coaches say the game is officiated differently in the tournament. Some say it’s better; others say it’s tighter. Referees, like teams, must perform well to advance to the later rounds of the tournament, so they enforce more rules as the rule book states them.
“Coaches want there to be, fans want there to be, the media wants there to be, officials want there to be an expectation of predictability,” Adams says. “What I don’t want is, we get to the NCAA tournament and all of the sudden a different style of officiating exists.
“What’s really good in college basketball is styles of play, ranging from Butler that … [For more on Under pressure: NCAA tournament officiating is a whole new ballgame, click here.]