WHO Gets to Make the Call
Here we are the day after the finale to college basketball. Sitting at the top of the mound is the Baylor Lady Bears and the Virginia Cavaliers. Every single March Madness tournament has a personality. They are all marked with extraordinary talent, plays, and coaching. On the flip side sometimes a game or two is marred by controversy. There are many examples of the controversy in this year's NCAA Tournament. The ironic part of the "controversy" is that it is man-made, and honestly the NCAA doesn't see it the same way fans do.
Exhibit A - The Men's Semi-Finals - "What Double Dribble?"
Okay I'm dripping with sarcasm here. For the fans that may have missed it (and by the way you can't call yourself a fan if you did), here's a clip from that fateful play of the NCAA Men's Division 1 Semi Final Game, Auburn v. Virgina:
Should Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl be upset. The answer is YES. If you look at the replay you'll see two referees seemingly in stride in the line of sight of the play action who both failed to make the call. What you have to remember the play action was tense and the referees were undoubtedly anticipating what would be happening at that moment which was an Auburn foul. The fan on the couch, in the stands, Auburn players and coaches will say, but how could such a fundamental basketball violation be missed? But it was missed by two referees. Does it make the system broken or the game unfair? No, it makes the game, the people who play it, and the referees human.
I will guarantee you that there were other missed calls during the game. Foul calls are judgment calls for referees. They must balance the flow of the game with the rules of the game. You hear a cry of "let them play" but when that happens the opposing team is outraged. Where do we find a happy medium? The short answer - you can't. The long answer is that the game of basketball, like so many other sports is a true reflection of life. Fair and perfection are two different things. Life is not fair and it is never always perfect. Somehow we impose a different set of rules when watching a sport.
Playing for the Win
This one is big because the rules and the reality of a game collide here. By virtue of the rules, winning means the person who scored more points is the victor - even if that margin is by one point. When you look at games that have over 20 lead changes, multiple ties during the game, does the winner by one point constitute the winner? The rules say so, but so much more happened in a game. The truth of the matter is that both teams are given a set amount of time to score the most points. There is not supposed to be an unfair advantage on either side. Some fans may argue that it's "Eight against Five" on the court counting the refs on one team's side. I'm not going to argue the point, I will suggest that sometimes it's not fair on the court (field, track, pool, green, lane, etc.). Sometimes there is an unfair advantage.
Sports thrives on the unfair advantage, but crucifies it at the same time.
When a coach pushes their players in practices; gets one more scrimmage in; gets one more meeting in to talk plays; the coach is trying to create an unfair advantage. Coaches work hard to be better prepared, better conditioned, and better performers during a game. At elite levels of a sport the field of talent is relatively equal. If you look at the talent on both sides Texas Tech v. Virginia - the talent was fairly equal. The difference maker in that game was going to boil down to other factors that fans can't see.
College coaches know referees miss calls sometimes - this is not a shock.
In the heat of the moment, it's no consolation when it happens to your team. But that's the reason a coach should be over preparing their team. Winning by one point cannot be the goal. If that's the goal, you'll more than likely fall prey to the inevitable challenges that lie ahead (i.e. a missed call). And that's life folks. It cannot be our goal to barely win. In life, there's going to be match-ups that prove difficult to overcome. There are going to be times when the "other factors" win the game - the better conditioned team, the better plays, the better poise, and so on. It is the factors that are taught repeatedly over time - persistence, achievement, competitiveness, that make the difference in a game.
This article is not a piece about why Virginia did or didn't deserve the championship title. This piece is asking you to use the NCAA Division I Men's Semifinals Game Auburn v. Virginia, and the Championship game - Texas Tech v. Virginia and consider it a lesson for us all. Despite the missed calls (and yes it happened on both sides of the court), one team became victorious. Do different referees call the game differently? Yes, and the same happens in life. Different managers perform differently and yet the work must get done, the goals must still be met.
ESPN's coverage of the women's championship rounds broadcast a compelling piece called "Fate" played by Orange is the New Black actress Samira Wiley. Love it or hate it, what happens on the court sometimes feels like destiny and out of the hands of the players. There are countless numbers of examples and receipts that tell you there is something to "Fate". Ask the Miami Heat in 2011 with the newly minted Big Three how they fell to the Dallas Mavericks. Ask the Charles Barkely led Phoenix Suns how on earth they fell 4-3 in the 1995 NBA Western Conference Finals to a Houston Rockets team down 3-1. It was more than Chucky Brown and Mario Elie...it very well could have been "Fate".
Goals, much like the rules for declaring a winner, don't change because of one bad actor.
A true sportsman will tell you that if you blow the other team out, bad calls don't matter. The fact that you blame an entire win or loss on a referee is short-sighted. These players have been playing for years; and their coaching staff doing their job for years. One referee cannot fundamentally change the outcome. We would be discounting the efforts on the court and leading up to the game if we think it's all up to the referees.
A Loss Feels Terrible
Yes I know, trust me I know. I am one of the world's worst losers. No I don't show it externally (at least not purposely), but I will internally replay a loss a million times trying to dissect the issues. At the end of the day, I don't want to lose a second time in the same way. That's the competitor in me. That same competitor doesn't want to see the same missed referee calls happen either...but I digress. The point...
There are winners and losers in a game period.
Each game is a game of risk. Your team's talent versus the other team's talent is on the line. A game is a moment in time to determine who played better that day. IF the game boiled down to one play, then there would be only one play. The game is a collection of plays that should settle things at the buzzer. Focusing on a bad call on one play of many on the court is unfortunate on all sides. Bad calls shouldn't happen, but human beings make mistakes. If you were able to objectively watch a game you would see that referees make judgment calls all throughout the games on calling a violation. It's their job to balance the flow of the game with the rules. It's just difficult to reconcile when we may not understand or agree with the rhyme or reason for the nefarious "no call".
After the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, do you feel settled? I want to hear your thoughts. Sports teaches life, life teaches sports. I do not see them as separate branches - they are co-equal branches of our society that builds a culture of winning. As we move forward into the next chapters in sports, should teams be allowed a do-over? The NFL's New Orleans Saint's sued because of officiating they felt determined the outcome of the game. They didn't get a do-over or compensation for the loss. But that was then, we live in the here and now. Fans have every right to weigh in on how the game progresses moving forward. League officials listen. Comments move the chains in this post. Looking forward to reading yours!
Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux is an American author, publisher, speaker, and entrepreneur. Leading The Thibeaux Company®, drJ hopes to impact human performance in a variety of industries. Working with executives and key influencers in Fortune 100 companies, drJ has developed a keen sense of performance in action. Earning business and education advanced degrees, drJ continues to insert intelligence into the performance conversation. Hosting and appearing on a variety of radio shows, podcasts, and other broadcast mediums, drJ has no "stop" in sight. To find out more about Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux or products and projects from The Thibeaux Company®, be sure to visit www.Thibeaux.org.