Commentary

Coaches don't expect more officiating scandals

Originally Published: July 31, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- College basketball officials expect a backlash from the Tim Donaghy betting scandal. College coaches aren't quite sure.

But one thing they can agree on is that there needs to be a vigilance shown toward officials to ensure that a scandal like the one the NBA is facing doesn't trickle down to the college game.

"My concern is that the NBA has an umbrella around its officials since they work for the NBA while we have independent contractors," said Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli during an AAU event last week in Florida. "So, to think that it hasn't happened or couldn't happen is very naive."

When the Donaghy scandal first broke earlier this month -- the FBI investigation into allegations that the veteran NBA official made calls with the purpose of affecting the point spreads the past two seasons -- there was an immediate groan among college officials.

Rick Hartzell, an official in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Horizon League and athletic director at Northern Iowa, called it "a huge black eye on all officials, at all levels," later adding that "it paints us in a horrible light. It's a very, very sad thing."

NBA officials are in a union. College officials aren't. They are, like Martelli said, independent contractors. They have other jobs. They aren't tied to just one conference. One official can work a different league every night. Still, it's not like the NCAA or conferences are sitting idle. There will be a renewed educational program come this fall.

And there already has been plenty of education in the past.

The NCAA won't allow an official to be eligible for "nomination to work the championship," unless that official attends a regional officiating seminar and submits a "signed questionnaire indicating, among many other items, whether they have ever placed or taken a wager on intercollegiate or professional athletic contests via any means," according to NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, who oversees the NCAA Tournament among many of his duties. The officials also consent to background checks, which are administered by representatives from the NCAA agent, gambling and amateurism activities staff.

"It has happened now in the NBA and it's a red flag, so hopefully we'll respond forcefully and put our resources behind it to ensure that it doesn't happen again," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. "Let's hope that we can solve the problem before it becomes a problem."

Overall, the consensus seemed to be that the coaches believe, or rather hope, that this is an isolated incident.

"I don't think there will be much of an effect," said Clemson's Oliver Purnell. "There are bad bankers, bad coaches, bad officials and dishonest people in every walk of life. We just have to be diligent and make sure that it doesn't happen and that it's one individual."

But, it's that individual, the basketball official, who has more say in a game than any other person. The coaches were in agreement that a basketball official can control the outcome of a game more so than any other official in any other sport because he can control the score, who plays and who sits, as well as eject the coaching staff.

"Everyone recognizes that if you really want to fix a game in basketball that the guy to get to is the official because of how much he can control," Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "In all honesty, I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner. I'm happy it took this long to occur, and I hope that it doesn't happen for another 50 years."

"I do believe it's an isolated incident but we have to be cautious," Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. "Officials have a tremendous amount of power in our game."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com