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We’ve Gotta Do Something About These Zebras, man.

Image result for john higgins referee

Just like that, it’s over, folks. It sucks. If you are like me, you are still in denial that the Cat’s season is officially over. I can’t get the horrifying image of that Luke Maye buzzer beater out of my head. It’s haunting. You know what else is haunting? The absolutely dreadful officiating I’ve witnessed, not only during Sunday’s loss but for the entirety of the 2017 college basketball season. It seems this issue gets brought up almost every year around this time. Improving college officiating is widely and frequently discussed yet here we are still complaining about the quality of college officiating. The NCAA has addressed the issue and made efforts to improve the calls on the court but clearly those efforts have failed. So why is it so dang hard to get these guys in black and white stripes to make better calls?

Division-I college basketball is played by some of the best 18-22 year old athletes on the planet. They run fast with incredible endurance. They jump high. They are incredibly agile. Oh yeah, and they run really fast. That’s who plays college basketball. Who officiates college basketball? Old dudes. I was unable to find a reliable list of NCAA referee profiles but I was able to find one for NBA officials – keep in mind NBA refs are supposed to be the cream of the crop – which should be a good enough measure to illustrate my point.

According to basketball-reference.com, the average age of an NBA referee is 46 years old. I think we can expect the average age of an NCAA official to be right around that. Forty. Six. For you math nerds out there that’s over double the age of the oldest players on the court. Now, I’m not suggesting college refs are in bad shape, in fact, I bet most of them are in great physical condition. However, a 46 year-old in great shape is not keeping up with a division-I college athlete. Sorry for being an ageist but it is just a matter of biology.

Jim Burr, retired from college officiating a couple years ago at the age of 68. What exactly, besides seniority, is the rationale for letting a man, well beyond his prime, continue to try to keep up with such a fast paced game? As we age and accrue life experiences to reflect on, we indeed get wiser. Using this logic, a seasoned referee with years of experience and a deep understanding of the rules should be more trustworthy in officiating a game. Sure, being familiar with the environment and knowing the rules are tremendously important aspects of being a referee but those things are useless if they are unable to apply them quickly.

College officials are not equipped to keep up with the game physically but may not even be the best equipped mentally. This study, was done at the University of Virginia on the decline in cognitive function with age. The study found that specific aspects of a person’s cognitive function, such as making rapid comparisons and detecting relationships, slowly start to decline around the age of 27. Remember the age of our average referee is about 46. There are countless other studies out there on cognitive function that suggest our minds (and bodies) aren’t quite as sharp when we get older. Athletes are getting faster and stronger with each passing year which means officials have more on their plate to keep up with than ever before.

Contrary to what this post may suggest, I do not hate the elderly. I apologize if it has seemed that way. However, I’m just trying to point something out that can be used to benefit the quality of games we watch on television. Ideally we’d like our refs to have sharp minds and bodies accompanied by years of experience. Unfortunately, it seems one of those things must be sacrificed for the other. Which leaves us with a dilemma and no clear cut solution to improving the officiating of the college game. So what should we do? I’m not really sure, is the most honest answer I can give. Perhaps, annual physical and cognitive assessments are given to officials just to be sure they’re well suited to keep up with an increasingly fast paced game.

I do not know what the best solution is but I do know more drastic steps must be taken in cleaning up the calls on the court. Little improvement in quality has been observed, and, clearly, a different approach to solving the problem must be taken. Using tools such a science could be the first step in solving such a complex issue. So please, NCAA, take this kind advice and just do something.

Article written by Barrett Lindsey

I drive a Saturn. Here's my twitter handle that you probably won't follow: @BarrySliceKSR

36 Comments for We’ve Gotta Do Something About These Zebras, man.



  1. UKfanman01
    5:51 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    This is why I nearly stopped watching college basketball when Wisconsin beat UK. Coaches should have challenges just like in football. If you’re out of timeouts and you want to challenge, go ahead. If you’re wrong it’s a technical



  2. ncaa is in on it
    5:56 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    video. the flow of the game already sucks and i would gladly wait for the correct call. You can tell in John Higgins answers in interviews that he loves his power way too much. They should have to do a full financial disclosure every season.



    • sckysportsink
      7:15 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      I agree on the video. Put one official on the floor with headphones and three in the booth with headphones, buzzers and monitors. If two or three buzz in on the same call, their ruling stands. If only one attempts, to buzz in, the system would default to no sound. In case of a 1-1 call (as block/charge), the third would decide (with the video option if needed). If the third can’t decide, then it would go to alternate possession. The floor official would only facilitate the booth decisions.



    • unbridled
      10:37 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      ScKysports….that’s a revolutionary idea that I have never heard of and I love it!



  3. KYcats11
    5:58 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    I have a simple solution:Remover bias refs.



    • unbridled
      10:39 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      …or just hold really incompetent refs accountable! Why is Higgins going to officiate a final four game?



    • runningunnin.454
      11:36 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      Don’t you know?
      He’s the Tar Heels 6th man.



  4. mj7juice
    6:02 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    The NCAA is spineless and won’t do a single thing.



    • leon singleton
      6:36 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      The NCAA enforces letting pedophiles in the girls rest rooms. What does that tell you about them?

    • leon, I know you rarely chime in, and when you do it’s always to be a butthead, but the thing is, your statement is 100% true.

      For those of you who don’t know, leon is a classic troll. Not a UL troll, but just a troll who thinks he’s a comedian.



    • catsarerunnin
      8:07 am March 29, 2017 Permalink

      Noel is brilliant.



  5. Underdog
    6:06 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    This is a disturbing article. Barrett, you seriously think the root cause of bad officiating has to do with cognitive abilities and that is based on age? And you think 46 years-old is “old”?

    I thought this was satire, but you are serious. Very disturbing, if not dangerous attitudes and presumptions you’ve adopted.

    The irony is that many (not just young, but certainly young) people today have lost or never had the ability to think critically. This article is sad proof of that.

    True root causes of bad officiating would be an interesting read, but I can assure you that the ripe old age of 46 has nothing to do with it.



    • TBW3011
      7:01 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      I don’t know about the cognitive ability part, but it is reasonable to think 46 yr olds can’t physically keep up with the up and down action. That said, the primary issue with refs are that too many have agendas and too many climb the ladder because the refereeing/umpiring community is basically a good ole boys club. And I’m referring to the ones at the highest levels, so don’t be upset if you’re a high school official. I’m not talking about you. These guys doing high level college games haven’t earned their way there. Higgins dad got him in and that’s the case over and over again. It’s not aptitude, it’s who you know. After Sunday’s first half debacle this guy has actually been rewarded with a spot in the Final Four. Let that sink in a minute.



    • Barrett Lindsey
      9:38 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read and provide feedback. Much appreciated. However, I disagree with your statement that this article failed to demonstrate critical thought. I did not implicitly state the root cause of bad officiating was due to the physical and cognitive deterioration that comes with age, I simply offered it as a possibility. I linked a study with actual data that suggests our cognitive functions slow as we age past 27 and there are numerous others I could link as well.

      I started this article by first giving all officials benefit of the doubt with the assumption they all were unbiased and all well qualified for the job. Ruling those two things out preserves objectivity. Then I searched for actual, quantifiable evidence that may explain why a ref, who is completely competent and without bias, would still miss calls at the rate they do. All the evidence pointed to physical and cognitive limitations that come with aging. I tried to be as scientific and objective as possible with my approach to this article. To say it lacked critical thought is inaccurate.



    • unbridled
      10:48 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      Underdog, you were extremely kind in your critique of this article. Apparently blogging is much like collegiate basketball officiating. Some are good at it and some aren’t. Who would have thought?



    • cal gal
      7:32 am March 29, 2017 Permalink

      Barrett, obviously Higgins is the primary motivation for this post and, in the gagillion complaints about him, I don’t recall a single argument being that age was the problem. That’s because he’s not old.

      I appreciate your effort to preserve objectivity, but THAT’S the whole issue with the officials who have a history of one-sided calls/no calls (btw, equal # of calls doesn’t mean fairly-called, to those who use that as justification of fairness).
      It’s not cognitive function, but bias that has been called into question; maybe personality type is at play, too, as some refs seem to enjoy being able to control the game and put big coaches and future NBA players in their place. Does anyone honestly think that NCAA games should be officiated by guys who are only 5-10 years older than the players and 20-30 years younger than coaches? The thought of a 20-something T’ing up Frank Martin, for example… Just can’t see it.
      As a 41 yr old, I was offended at first, but now I’m just mildly amused because I remember what I used to think “old” was. Enjoy your 20s, darlin, and know that getting “old” might not be so bad.



    • CATandMONKEY
      8:50 am March 29, 2017 Permalink

      From the author of the ONE study cited:

      ” These patterns suggest that some types of mental flexibility decrease relatively early in adulthood, but that how much knowledge one has, and the effectiveness of integrating it with one’s abilities, may increase throughout all of adulthood if there are no pathological diseases,” Salthouse said.

      However, Salthouse points out that there is a great deal of variance from person to person, and, he added, most people function at a highly effective level well into their final years, even when living a long life.”

      These patterns suggest that some types of mental flexibility decrease relatively early in adulthood, but that how much knowledge one has, and the effectiveness of integrating it with one’s abilities, may increase throughout all of adulthood if there are no pathological diseases,” Salthouse said.

      However, Salthouse points out that there is a great deal of variance from person to person, and, he added, most people function at a highly effective level well into their final years, even when living a long life.One hardly would expect a Cochrane-type review on KSR and the above quote and study don’t address the legitimate concern regarding physical decline especially after age 50 or so but the author’s implications detract from your conclusion that seems mostly based on a headline ABOUT a journal article.
      I will give you critical thought and an attempt at minimizing bias but will stop far short of awarding you points for being scientific.

      All my blather aside I agree that the NCAA ref sytem needs an overhaul and some combination of perhaps older, more experienced refs viewing the screens and changing standards for on-the-court refs deserves some consideration.



    • Barrett Lindsey
      10:03 am March 29, 2017 Permalink

      Fair, I should’ve been more thorough in explaining my supporting evidence. The brain is extremely complex and “cognitive function” is probably too broad for describing all of its functions. However, my intent with this post was to simply suggest that past attempts to solving the problem have failed and that improving officiating may deserve a more analytical approach. Appreciate you for reading and questioning.



    • CATandMONKEY
      8:52 am March 29, 2017 Permalink

      My cognitive decline at near 50 is evidenced in my inability to paste properly before posting.
      Touche’.



  6. PillsburyThrowboy
    6:28 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    Is this the best you got? I don’t know why I wasted my time reading this. Age is the answer? Come on.



  7. rickwhitetx
    6:37 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    Age is not the top of the list as far as issues with basketball officials go. I don’t know how long it takes for a basketball official to get to the division I college level, but for a football official, it can take 20 years. If it is similar for a basketball official to gain that much experience (experience is mandatory!) one would be, at least, 38 before making it to the big time. Then, several more years gaining the experience and understanding of the speed of the game to get a slot in the tournament. It’s no wonder the average age is 46. The only answer to the age question is to have full time officials at all levels. But, that would cost a lot of money for middle schools and high schools.



  8. Jiminy Crickets
    6:38 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    age of the ref is the issue? 46 is old?

    good luck finding a millennial willing to run, let alone work. I mean unless they get to video tape it, put it on youtube, talk about all the deficiencies and complain about the game.



    • bdmnky81
      6:59 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      You do understand that every single player of the calipari era (and quite a few before) is a millennial, right?

    • That’s right, but what JC said has a lot of truth to it too. I’ve read articles about it (nothing is 100%, I know that). Either way, most millennials can’t keep up with D-1 bball players, so that solution is at least a bit simplistic.



  9. TBW3011
    6:55 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    Why do you hate the elderly?



  10. keiths
    7:10 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    I live in SWFL, and yes i do hate the elderly. Live here a year and you will learn to hate them too



  11. smith78
    7:34 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    I know a lot of people, if they read this, are going to be really angry. Heck, they already are really angry. I cannot believe the extremely childish responses of UK fans, as (and especially) opposed to the UK coach and players. What is worse, I just watched Dave Barry on the local news talking about the “bad officiating” of the UK/UNC game. He even showed a couple of clips to support his claim, but what baffles me is that I thought it really was goal-tending if the ball is still touching the rim. I also thought it was a valid blocking call, unless the defensive player (Fox in this case) was set – no feet moving or sliding across the floor. Boy, was I wrong, at least according to Dave Barry. I guess if anyone knows the rules of the game, he should, right?

    Go back and look at the game and calls. I saw so many arms or hands wrapped around a UNC player’s arms, it was insane. The officiating was spot on…watch it again, in slo-mo if necessary. You will see that I am right.

    It was a great game, played by amazing athletes. Such a shame that the fans don’t have the maturity that those young players posess. And, yes, being from North Carolina, I am thrilled.



    • runningunnin.454
      8:01 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      The University of North Carolina is a shameful institution. They should not have even been allowed to put a team on the court this year….20 years of academic fraud. I saw a NC promo during one of their games; and they very foolishly said “At North Carolina students are not confined to the classroom”. Well damn straight they’re not…I almost choked on my coffee I was laughing so hard.
      Their team should get the death penalty, and the University should lose their accreditation.
      And if you think that was a well officiated game…you don’t know your a$$ from a hole in the ground.



    • unbridled
      10:54 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

      How can you objectively watch the first half of that game and say that the officiating was anything but abhorrent? I’m afraid you need to familiarize yourself with the game of basketball if you feel that it was quality officiating.



    • dballrb
      11:35 am March 29, 2017 Permalink

      When even Jay Williams tweets out during halftime that the calls against Kentucky was as bad as it gets…But someone will shoot back he’s a Duke guy…That speaks volumes. ..late



  12. SoCalCat
    7:36 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    Barrett, I’m not sure how old you are but I cannot wait until you reach 46 or even 56 and you read this article again from a new perspective; you will be shaking your head in shame. Also, given the BS treatment that John Higgins received by certain UK ‘fans’, anyone that isn’t senior enough would have a hard time not cowering under the pressure of doing these games. While I’m sad UK lost, you are definitely headed down the wrong path.



  13. Stopblamingrefs
    7:40 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    This guy had a horrible game! Actually it was a horrible half. If you know basketball, the best you can hope for is 94- 96 percent accuracy. If 20 fouls (and let’s just talk fouls – not every whistle) are called in a half, then 18 or 19 should be correct. Think about that for a second! When you consider the total number of whistles, the accuracy should be pretty high. If you want to DO something about the “zebras” grab a shirt and whistle. Head out to your local YMCA, church league, or junior pro…go to the KHSAA and get your officiating license. Maybe then you can write a piece that accurately talks solutions. Blaming the refs because of age is lame!



  14. Headshrinker
    9:02 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    When my son and I went to the exhibition Alumni game last year, I was shocked at the conditioning of the refs. I would imagine that since all the guys had NBA contracts, the NBA wanted their own refs there and I gotta say that these guys were athletes. As far as how they called the game, I would not say that this was a game that was taken very seriously by either team and therefore the defense was like that in an All Star game – non-existent. Nevertheless, I would imagine that NBA refs are held to a higher standard than ours are and with all the money in college basketball, I think there should be a higher level of accountability.



  15. the cheat
    11:20 pm March 28, 2017 Permalink

    KSR better take this crap down before some SJW reports this tirade of micro-aggressions against the elderly (27+) to the Southern Poverty Law Center and gets KSR listed as a hate group. Even FIFA has relaxed the rules on imposing age limits on referees and the cognitive abilities noted are most relevant to professional video game players. I would bet a 24 year old John Higgins would still be as effective as the current version. The NCAA needs to set higher standards regardless of the age especially in the tournament.



  16. Aar
    12:41 am March 30, 2017 Permalink

    IMHO, this post reflects poorly on KSR. Your readership needs to be calmed on the topic of NCAA officiating. Instead, you post an inflammatory piece founded in discrimination. Really?!

    The past two weeks have been extremely challenging for KSR. First, you come off as attacking an opposing coach’s wife. Then you repost unvetted, false statements attributed to an opposing player’s parent, issue a retraction, then continue to target the same person. Now KSR’s criticizing officiating and posting as piece that denies its obviously discriminatory content? Shouldn’t family be off limits and officiating left on the court? (I know one of those family members thrives on the attention but that’s just more reason to ignore them)

    In my experience, KSR has historically taken the high road on issues such as these. I sincerely hope editorial oversight on KSR returns to previous norms.