Less talking is better for the game

February, 24, 2010
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was irate over how the game against Connecticut was being called Monday night.

He let his emotions go. He spewed out a few expletives that were audible and easily lip-read by those at the XL Center.

He had a personal audience of not only his assistant coaches and players but official Michael Stuart.

Why was Stuart standing, essentially, in his huddle? Stuart listened to the tirade for a bit and then rather demonstratively ejected Huggins.

Once Huggins was ejected, he stayed on the sideline, where lead official John Cahill went over to carry on more of a conversation. At that point, Huggins had already been ejected. Security could have even taken over if they had to, but the decision had been made.

What was the point for Cahill to continue having a conversation on the matter, make the situation even more dramatic and create more of a scene?

Why throughout a game are officials having conversations with head coaches, running over to the bench, leaning in with one ear as they're trying to observe what's going on in front of them?

Why is there so much talking? Why in college basketball, more so than in any other sport, are the names of the officials so common to the general public? Why are officials more of the story than in college football, the NFL, the NHL and even, it seems, than MLB or the NBA?

Following the game, Huggins said that he is actually in favor of discussing issues with officials during the game.

"Very few problems in our world can't be solved with good communication," Huggins said. "There's nothing wrong with communication."

Huggins did take issue with Stuart's constantly motioning toward his bench to sit down during the game, to which John Adams, the coordinator of NCAA officials, says is a rule and should be enforced. Adams said that players and coaches should be seated from the opening tip.

That might be about being overzealous over one rule, but what about all the talking?

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Tuesday he's in favor of talking to the officials during the game, too.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun surprisingly is not.

"If I had a whistle I wouldn't allow it," Calhoun said. "You're giving one guy an advantage if you allow a long lecture. The bottom line is that our league has become impossible to officiate."

That's because of the emphasis on trying to avoid all the physical contact, meaning more fouls, which drag games on for more than two hours.

As for the talking, Adams at least has a strong opinion.

Don't do it.

Adams said that Stuart could have been in his assigned area, but shouldn't be in a huddle.

"I'm personally not a fan of getting into huddles at timeouts," Adams said.

He said it's perfectly normal for Cahill to go over to Huggins to say it's time to leave to prevent a problem becoming even worse, "in effect saving him from further problems resulting in unsportsmanlike behavior in the game."

Adams said that the proximity of officials and coaches makes it harder for the two to avoid talking to each other.

The problem that has occurred in the Big East is that there is an old boys network. The familiarity between the coaches and officials allows too much talking among each other.

"My perspective is that all a referee should do is answer a question in a courteous and respectful manner," Adams said. "Don't have to carry on an ongoing dialogue."

At one point during Monday's game, Cahill had his back to the play as he listened to Huggins. He realized he wasn't paying attention, and quickly turned around and watched the action as Huggins continued to talk in his ear. Huggins is hardly alone here. Coaches are constantly calling over officials for explanations and to "work" them throughout the course of a game.

"I think we're much better off when referees just ref and when coaches just coach," Adams said. "I've said that for years when I was in the Horizon League and now."

Adams asked this rhetorical question: Does a coach really think he can make a difference or influence future calls by talking to an official? Because if that's not the case, then why is a coach wasting his time on that?

"It's February and it seems like civility goes out the window as the games increase in magnitude," Adams said. "But then we focus on our 64-team tournament in three weeks and the whole process gets better. Coaches aren't as familiar with the officials."

And that might be for the best, as games are not held up or dragged on because coaches and officials are having an unnecessary ongoing chat during the flow of the game.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?