2017 NCAA Tournament: Inconsistent Officiating

As much as hoop fans were talking about Roy Williams winning his third NCAA championship and leading this year’s Tar Heels on their path to redeem themselves from the buzzer-beating loss to Villanova in last year’s final game, most of us were talking about the officiating.  Yes, we typically complain about officiating, especially in recent championship games, of which we have had several down-to-the wire affairs; but this year’s game was difficult for all of us to watch.  Scott Davis of the Business Journal summed it quite well in Overzealous Officiating . . . when he pointed  out:

“In total, there were 44 foul calls, 22 on both teams, with 27 of those fouls coming in the second half. As a result, there were 52 total free throws, 26 for each team.  It wasn’t that the officiating was unfair or one-sided — it was just far too prevalent.”

And even LeBron James, one of the most physical players of all time, took issue with the officials:

Over-officiated?  Inconsistently officiated?  Whichever it was, it’s part of the game and even though we’ve tried to tighten it up with instant replay, officials, just like players and coaches, make mistakes and still remain an integral part of the sport we love.  Rules and the enforcement of rules are as necessary as they’ve ever been – even if we don’t always agree.

BASKETBALL – It is What it is!

Both of the coaches took the high road when it came to commenting about the officials after Monday’s game.  Hall of Famer Roy Williams said he was more concerned about his team’s terribly ugly offense and Mark Few got it right in the way you would expect from a future Hall of Famer:

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I learned long ago that you have to work with and appreciate the officials who are there to enforce the rules that we coaches have supported.  We need those rules.  Now, as a fan, I would have loved to have a seen a free-flowing game without all of those stoppages and free throws.  I would have loved to have seen Karnowski and Collins of the Zags physically battle with Meeks and Hicks of UNC without having to be so concerned about foul trouble, but that’s why consideration is being given to college basketball adopting more of the international rules for basketball.  We can adjust the rules, but they still have to be interpreted by human officials who each bring a little different perspective and vision of the rules – obviously, one of those guys the other night did not like physical contact between big guys, just like a few other officials in the tournament decided they would completely ignore “impeding the progress of an offensive player” and “calling fouls on offensive players who initiate contact.”

My point is, officiating will often be inconsistent, but without officials we’d be reduced to “calling your own.”  Yeah, like that ever works in open gym or during practice!

LIFE – Call Your Own?

We all have rules and laws that we don’t like.  I see plenty of people in my baseball job who completely ignore traffic signs, barricades, and common decency.  We all tend to look after ourselves first and then assess whether something is necessary, fair, or self-serving. Face it, we live in a “call your own fouls” world and it’s getting more so all the time as society drives toward tolerance.  Things that were once immoral or taboo have become acceptable and commonplace.  While we have laws on the books, our authorities often look the other way or choose not to enforce them, so taking responsibility for yourself has become an individual responsibility.  Sure, our “referees” will enforce the big things, but listening to your inner moral compass, your conscience, or for some of us, the commands of God, is being pushed further and further from society.

FAITH – Be Holy!

The issue of officiating and rule interpretation has been on my heart as a follower of Christ for a while.  A common view from outside the church, as well as increasingly from inside the church, is that following Jesus is about following rules.  And more and more of us view those “rules” as old-fashioned, out of date, or even inhibiting the evolution of man and our society.  Afterall, who would want to follow rules that may take away the fun of life, or even deeper, discourage us from living lifestyles that we choose or that we may define as permissible?

As we stress the law in God’s church, we run the risk of becoming legalistic – that our faith is about doing the right things and not doing bad things.  Even worse, we easily fall into the “holier than thou” trap of thinking we’re doing a better job than other people at following the rules and as a result, lapse into thinking we have it all figured out, while others are completely lost.. Those rules or laws or commands or whatever we want to call them are not there to trap us. God gives them to us to not only help us make wise decisions in this life, but to show us how desperately we need Jesus.  Jesus is holy, without blame or sin, and we are not.  Those rules and our inconsistent interpretations not only provide pain and grief in our lives, but show us that we each need to draw closely to Him.  Scott Savage wrote a thought-provoking article for Relevant Magazine that I’ve been working through called Legalism Isn’t Always a Bad Thing, which has led me to a wonderful book from millennial pastor Tyler Braun called Why Holiness Matters.  If you’re struggling with the idea of following God’s rules, take a look at both.  While the world’s rules constantly change, God’s never do.  When you realize through the gift of faith that you want to follow Jesus, the rules become easier to understand:

 “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”  (1 Peter 1:14-16)

Be holy like Jesus – not holier than others, not somewhat holy, not holy in some part of your life and not holy when it’s convenient – be holy!

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