June 29, 2010 2 Comments
So, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, there isn’t much going on in sports right now. With the US out of the World Cup, the NBA Finals over, the Americans out of Wimbledon, and baseball nearing the midseason break, Sportscenter is having a tough time filling a full show. Then again, this is around the time of the Make-a-Wish program (or perhaps maybe even another Mt Rushmore of Sports). I, for one, enjoyed their promotion of who’s more now? I wasn’t sure what this meant, but it was pretty much a popularity contest. Nevertheless, I am very intrigued what ESPN will do in this summer’s promotion.
While I won’t address the NBA free agency question until next week, there has been one thing that has overshadowed sports: Officiating. If you call yourself a sports fan, you have probably had an issue with the referees lately. Whether it is in the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, and most notably the World Cup, the referees have failed to make themselves invisible.
I would like to start by explaining how one becomes an official in sports. Most begin as a volunteer ref and have to work their way up. As you become better and more experienced you can become a high school referee. From there, you must get promoted to the college level. If you do very well at the college level, you may have an opportunity to ref at the pro level as well. Many doors have to open for one to make it to the pros. In fact, in some cases becoming a professional referee may be as tough as becoming a professional athlete. So with all this in mind, it just doesn’t make sense why an official would want to go through all this training only to be scrutinized. Because lets face it, you aren’t going to be recognized for calling a good game.
It all began in Detroit about a month ago. It was none other than the infamous call of Jim Joyce, ruining the perfect game of Armando Galarraga that forever altered baseball history. In a sport where MLB umpires make 99.9% of their calls correctly, leave it to the media to blow this one incident out of proportion. For those who have watched any of the College World Series, there is no question how much greater MLB umpires are than at any other level. Unlike other sports, MLB umpires have been very quick to admit their mistakes. In a recent poll conducted by ESPN The Magazine, Major League Baseball players voted Jim Joyce the best big league umpire. Quite odd, given Joyce’s recent bad publicity. So I could not help but sympathize with Joyce when he missed one of the biggest calls in sports history. However, he immediately apologized for his human error, and was later greeted to a standing ovation at the same stadium that booed him off the field the day before. This is America, after all. America is one of the most forgiving countries in the world, and Baseball is America.
As if the Tigers hadn’t gone through enough with the umps, the recent Johnny Damon call was no help. The Tigers had the bases loaded in the 9th with two outs down by 1, when Damon was rung up on strikes to end the game. Later on, the home plate umpire apologized for calling the last pitch a strike when it was clearly out of the zone. For those casual baseball fans, two blown calls in the past month may make one think that this kind of stuff always happens. I would respond by challenging you to think of another blown call in the past ten years of baseball. If I can’t think of another one, then chances are there haven’t been many. So before you make a quick judgment on MLB umpires, you must realize the number of games they call each season. The numbers are on their side.
This leads me to a new joke I just heard: “World Cup referees.” Yes, that is the punch line. The referee’s flaws were most notable in the US-Slovenia game, and the errors keep coming. It is no surprise to most that refs have a strong bias against the US, after all so does most of America. So when the US team overcame mysterious offsides and foul calls to win their group, it felt like we were the team of destiny. So when England was robbed of their first goal of the Cup, I couldn’t help but laugh. Welcome to our world. The English were quick to blame their loss on the ref’s even though they lost by THREE goals. Same goes with Mexico, too. When you lose by more than one goal, your credibility greatly decreases when you blame it on the refs. I can’t seem to recall the US players calling out the refs after their games: Do you? Unlike the MLB, you aren’t going to see FIFA admitting to these bad calls. Instead, FIFA has decided to censor all replays at the cup. At least this will postpone the riots another 90 minutes. FIFA surely doesn’t need bad publicity like this. If you’re wondering if referees with botched calls are still refereeing in South Africa, think again. FIFA is the Michael Corleone of the sporting world. There is no wiggle room for mistakes, mess up once and you’re out. No excuses. Good luck to the surviving ref’s in the matches to come.
And don’t forget the NBA. The dream Finals matchup between the Lakers-Celtics was overshadowed by a touch foul being called every 20 seconds. This is the league that can’t afford to have bad officiating, remember… Tim Donaghy. It was concluded that Donaghy didn’t fix games, but bet on games that were “essentially” fixed. Meaning, he bet on teams/games when there was a biased official calling the game. And, I am sure the Maverick’s fans remember the 2006 Finals where Dwyane Wade averaged more free throws than the Mavericks team combined. I am surprised Danny Crawford is still allowed to call Mavs games at this point. An awful statistic is how the Mavs are 1-17 in PLAYOFF games when Crawford refs, and 4-14 against the spread. In the critical game 6 of the ’06 Finals where the Heat could clinch the series up 3-2, the Heat managed to sneak by in the end. To a casual NBA fan, this seems like it was an excellent game, coming down to the final possession but looking at the box score, not so much. In fact, the Mavs finished the game hitting 19-23 free throws, while the Heat finished 23-37 on free throws. To add to my point, Wade finished the game with 16-21 free throws BY HIMSELF, nearly equal to the Mavericks TEAM free throw total. As Tim Donaghy said in an interview, “Danny Crawford is proud of Dallas losses.” So maybe Cuban’s temper is justified after all. If Crawford fails to rid himself of this bias, I see a nice job at Foot Locker in his future.
I, for one am surprised to hear the media endorse instant replay in sports. Without bad calls, there is nothing to argue about, and when there is nothing to argue about, there is nothing to write about. So I’m not sure why the media endorses replay use but who knows. I will be the first to say that I am not a proponent of instant replay in sports. The NFL was the first of the major sports to allow challenges and replays in sports, but still have the occasional botched call. After all, if it wasn’t for Tom Brady’s “tuck rule” in 2002, you still may yet to see replay in sports. It just kills the integrity of the game. If we have replays after every bad call in sport, you might as well hire robots to officiate games, and save the officials the time and embarrassment.