Vol. 51, No. 2 January 2014 .pdf version
Kirk Wessler: Let officials explain themselves
Joe Mitch: SiriusXM, CBSSports.com are partners
Dana O'Neil: Patience will prevail over pontification
Ed Graney: As always, tough choices abound
Jerardi, Lapides, Norwood are Hall of Famers
Record-setting number of entries in best-writing contest
Lodge Notes: Gould leaves Sun-Times

Kirk Wessler

It's time for NCAA to let officials explain themselves

By KIRK WESSLER / Peoria Journal-Star
USBWA President

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I was covering Game 3 of the World Series when all hell broke loose and ended like no Series game before it. An out at the plate was followed by a wild throw to third, a baserunner sliding, the third baseman falling, the runner stumbling over the third baseman before trying to score, a throw home, another slide, a tag and an obstruction call that ruled the runner safe with the winning run.

What the heck did we just see?

To help us out more important, to help the fans understand Major League Baseball brought three umpires to a postgame news conference. They answered questions and explained in detail what they had observed and the rules that governed the arcane situation on the field.

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Later, after filing a column and blog, an idea popped into my head. Wouldn't it be nice to have postgame pressers with officials after NCAA basketball tournament games, a good number of which every spring involve controversial calls? Crazy, I know. But crazy only because we can't imagine the NCAA or the society of referees agreeing to something so practical.

Granted, the tournament allows a pool reporter, and thankfully, this season the pool reporter's access to game officials will be restored. But a press conference could provide so much more depth, nuance, clarity and, above all, openness.

That last benefit is ultra-important. When a call, a no-call, a rule interpretation or technical foul in a close game goes unexplained, respect for officials diminishes. Every time a conference issues a nothing statement about an officiating problem, public confidence in the sport is undermined. The games are played in public, before thousands in arenas and millions on television. Coaches and players are called upon to explain themselves, for better or worse.

But officials are afforded secrecy and are accountable only to their supervisors, and that's not right. It also breeds arrogance, and that's worse.

I'm a licensed basketball official with the Illinois High School Association. I try to work as many games as possible within the constraints of my real job. I'm pretty good at tuning out fans, but occasionally a voice will rise above the din and betray ignorance of a rule or situation. Obviously, there are good reasons why I can't stop and address them, and some fans just want to be loud and rude.

Others, perhaps most, would benefit from an explanation. Some fans know me and ask questions the next time they see me. I've heard, "I didn't know that," more than a few times. The other thing is, I'm human and make mistakes. I'll admit when I'm wrong. Sometimes, I'd welcome a postgame podium, but there isn't one.

There should be.

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