Somebody needs to stick up for the referees and the best man for that job is Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin. He dealt with two high-profile officiating blunders— both in Wichita State games — in recent weeks.
His faith in officiating remains strong, because he believes the MVC is doing its best to hire some of the nation’s top referees.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” he said. “I think people in the know, in the officiating community, and that would include coordinators of officials, will confirm that.”
Wednesday’s Kansas-Oklahoma State game confirmed Elgin’s confidence. The officiating crew included Paul Janssen and John Higgins. Janssen worked the WSU-Illinois State “Jackie Chan” game and that crew received a reprimand for sending the wrong foul shooter to the line.
Higgins worked WSU’s loss at Southern Illinois, a game decided in the final seconds by a goaltending call that brought a reprimand down on Rick Randall. Since then, Randall worked games in Conference USA, Mountain West and the MVC.
Elgin’s point: Officials who work MVC games also work other top conferences and many of them will show up on your TV in March in the NCAA Tournament.
Officials face more pressure and more scrutiny than ever. Almost every game is on TV, meaning fans can record and rewind to judge calls, then post their evaluation to Facebook and YouTube. Players are bigger and faster and defenses more physical.
“It’s hard to please everybody, coaches and fans,” he said. “It’s a harder game to officiate than it was 25 years ago, I don’t think there’s any question.”
On the court, the MVC hustles to keep up with higher-profile conferences by encouraging teams to schedule good opponents and play in strong tournaments. It works in similar ways to lure the best officials.
Final Four referee Tom Eades worked WSU’s games with Creighton and Northern Iowa at home. Verne Harris and Mike Stuart often do MVC games. The MVC offers elite officials more money, based on experience and accomplishment. It schedules games on Tuesdays and Sundays to combat the lure of the Big 12 and Big Ten. And it rewards referees who work a certain number of Wednesday and Saturday MVC games with bonus money in an attempt to improve crews on those days.
“We try to stagger weekday games — two Tuesday and three Wednesday — because Wednesday and Saturday are, without question, the heaviest days for games,” Elgin said. “One way we can leverage more assignments from what we consider the elite tier of officials is have back-to-back days where we can give them work.”
Guard Malcolm Armstead often uses that tactic, without needing instruction from the coaches. WSU trailed the Redbirds most of the game, so Armstead let it roll regularly.
“It’s him, just buying time when we’re down,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
Armstead hasn’t calculated the savings.
“I just save time so we have a 35-second possession,” Armstead said. “I only do it early in the game. I usually don’t do it late in the game, because I know somebody is going to pick me up full court.”
Late in the Illinois State game, however, the Redbirds backed off into a zone. That allowed Armstead and Fred VanVleet to save time.
“They weren’t really trying to pressure,” Armstead said. “They were trying to finish the game.”
Not all defenses concede the roll. Bradley guard Ka’Darryl Bell jumped on a rolling ball to force a turnover when Indiana State tried to save time late in a game won by the Braves 80-68.