LOGAN — Years ago, Ron Lundstrom was coaching a youth basketball game when he had a run-in with an official. When a disputed call led to easy points for the opposing team, Lundstrom argued with the official. But rather than issue a technical foul as is common in basketball, the official ripped his uniform off and threw it at Lundstrom, yelling that Lundstrom could do it if he thought he could do a better job.
“I talked to him several times about where the ball should be thrown in,” Lundstrom said. “He ignored me and gave the other team the ball in the wrong spot, right under the basket, and they got an easy layup out of it.”
That youth official was one of hundreds of thousands across the country that receive little to no training to officiate youth sports. But what most coaches, players and fans across the country lack is knowledge of what the men in black and white go through to become certified officials at the high school, collegiate and professional level.
According to www.phillyref.com, there are between 60 and 70 professional basketball referees in the entire country, and between 500-600 collegiate at the Division I, II and III levels. The number balloons at the high school level, and each of these officials has gone through a long and costly process to become certified.
It is not difficult to find fans complaining about officiating in a contest, and only slightly more difficult to find them shouting profanities and insults directly at officials at games. No matter the sport. But for the first time in recent memory, officials received the overwhelming support of fans across the country.
Over the summer, the NFL Referee’s Association locked out, wanting a better benefit pension plan and retirement benefits. Replacement officials were used for the preseason and first three weeks of the regular season.
But because these replacement officials lacked training and preparation for the highest level, games got out of control to the point of physical confrontations, and boiled over after a Monday Night Football game in late September.
During the seven weeks, fans, coaches and players clamored for the league to come to terms with the regular officials so that they’d return. After that MNF game the league did, and regular officials returned.
NBA officials have considered similar actions, but so far have remained satisfied.
Joey Crawford, perhaps the NBA’s most famous official, has been an NBA official for 35 years. Crawford said that the legendary players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Micheal Jordan never said anything to him.
“They almost never said anything, good or bad. Most players in sports believe they actually know something about officiating. And they don’t,” Crawford said. “But those guys, they very, very rarely said anything to me. Isn’t that amazing? Because there’s three guys that had the ball, what, 75 percent of the time? They had more important things to worry about.”
But if fans do have anything to complain about when it comes to officiating, it’s at the NBA level.
Studies done by three economic researchers at Brigham Young University, Joseph Price, Marc Remer and Daniel F. Stone, found that officials at the NBA level have a tendency to make calls in favor of the home team, the team that is trailing in a playoff series, or a team trailing in a game in order to keep the game close and set up exciting finishes.
The controversy of official bias and influence is ongoing, but for Lundstrom at least, he’s come to terms with officials, because he became one. In 2004, six years after his run in with the official, Lundstrom certified with the NFHS and currently officiates high school basketball at the junior varsity level.
“If you can’t beat them, join them,” Lundstrom said. “There’s a pretty good feeling of camaraderie among the referees I work with.”