From the Bird’s Nest:A new level of incompetence
For years, we've noticed a difference in the level of officiating in the Sun Belt Conference between games on Wednesday or Thursday and games on Saturday. For many years now, I've introduced officials before the game by saying "It's Saturday night in the Sun Belt and your officials are..."
And anyone who has listened or watched games over the years knows what I'm talking about.
This season, things are somewhat different. There's a new supervisor of officials, Mike Wood. And, the Sun Belt no longer uses the same officials as the Big XII and Conference USA.
And it shows. And trust me, it isn't for the better.
Before the season started Wood joined the Sun Belt broadcasters on a conference call. He said that this year you could expect officials to call things more by the book.
Immediately a red flag went up. More "by the book" was going to mean more fouls called. Because just as holding can be called on just about every play in football, a foul can be called on just about every possession.
I asked Wood about the disparity in officiating between Thursday and Saturday night and also asked if Saturdays were going to become free throw shooting contests. "I'm glad you asked that question," Wood said. "I've looked at tape from last season and there was really no disparity in how the games were called."
And with that statement, Wood immediately lost credibility, not only with me, but with every broadcaster I've talked with in the league so far.
Tonight, "Saturday night in the Sun Belt" hit an all new low.
The names were Jeffrey Smith, Rob Kruger and Joe Stigliano. And tonight, they called 64 fouls. Tonight we saw 98 free throws. Tonight we saw eight players foul out. And, as I feared, the game turned into a free throw shooting contest. Middle Tennessee hit 41-49. Louisiana hit 32-49. Middle wins the game 93-91 in overtime.
And trust me when I say, it wasn't an overly physical game. In fact, if these three officials were calling a Big East game, roughly 200 free throws would have been shot.
Some of the incompetence was almost laughable. With less than a minute to go in regulation and the Cajuns holding their first lead since early in the game, MTSU missed a shot. As it hung on the rim, it was tipped in. Every single person in the Cajundome knew it was offensive basket interference, except for the law firm of Smith, Kruger and Stigliano. They all swallowed their whistles, presumably because they couldn't find a reason to call a foul.
As the game went into overtime, the law firm started anticipating fouls. There were a few called, one on MTSU and two against the Cajuns that we're still looking for contact. But hey, it looked like they were going to commit a foul, so what the heck...blow the whistle.
The most outrageous foul call of the night actually could have helped the Cajuns. With a little over a second remaining in OT and Middle up by three, a foul was called when Randall Daigle went up to heave a desperation 60 footer. Whistle. Foul. Three shots. ON A SIXTY FOOTER.
Had Daigle made all three free throws, MTSU Coach Kermit Davis could have committed murder and any jury in America would have called it justifiable homicide.
Wood can try and spin this one any way he wants, but the reality is the Sun Belt used to have guys who, at least during the week, were regularly named to the NCAA tournament field. Many of them have been final eight or final four officials. But with that agreement gone by the wayside, the Sun Belt now uses officials with much less experience, some of which, in fact, have been cut by the Southland Conference.
The Sun Belt has seen its RPI drop into the 20's the last two seasons. The league has, therefore, come up with (more)(new) scheduling criteria (again) to try to improve the status of the league. But the league also needs to come out of denial when it comes to its officials. Because, I gotta tell you, what has been bad in the past is downright embarassing now.
What we saw at the Cajundome Saturday night was an insult to the players, the coaches and the fans who watch this sport. The scoreboard at the end of the game said Middle Tennessee 93, Louisiana 91.
But the biggest loser of all was college basketball itself.
And Mr. Wood can't find enough lipstick to put on that pig.