Tudor

Let's talk about officials

Staff WriterDecember 22, 2009 

Go ahead and accuse me of being an anarchist, but I'm plenty bummed about N.C. State basketball player Tracy Smith's suspension for criticizing game officials.

Minutes after the Wolfpack's 67-59 Sunday loss at Wake Forest, the junior forward said he didn't think Karl Hess, Joe Lindsay and Sean Hull did a good job.

"I think they favored Wake Forest all the way, but that's ACC basketball. You've got to play through that," Smith said.

"I felt like there was too many touch fouls. It's a man's game; I mean there's going to be touching and hitting. You can't call every little touch foul."

Those words prompted N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe to enforce his program rule and suspend the team's best player for Wednesday's game at Arizona.

Almost all college teams and conferences have policies that prohibit players and coaches from making derogatory public comments about officiating. If they have something positive to say, they are allowed to run on for hours. So in defense of Lowe, if he hadn't taken strong action, the ACC might have done it for him.

But why?

What's so wrong with a game's participants discussing the performances of other participants?

Smith should have as much right as a fan to express an opinion. So should a coach, athletic director or school chancellor. For that matter, a game official should have the same option. If Hess wants to come out and say a player or a coach was ineffective, so be it. Let him speak his piece.

In this case, Smith probably was off-base in saying the officials "favored" Wake. But just because I happen to disagree with his opinion, that certainly doesn't mean he shouldn't be able to say what's on his mind.

And shoot, maybe even Smith is right. A couple of the fouls called on him were borderline and definitely had an impact on the outcome. Even with Smith on the court for 40 minutes, instead of 23, State's offense is puny enough. But put him on the bench for 10 to 15 minutes, and the Pack is fortunate to find a decent shot, much less sink it.

It's strange that the third rail of team sports - officiating - gradually has become a sacred cow of national proportion. It's virtually impossible to question any official's competency or judgment.

Officials have a difficult job. That's basic as bread, and even if it's not, it's been hard-wired into our culture for so long that it might as well have been included among the Declaration of Independence's self-evident truths.

There's another bromide about officials, too. They're human, and as such, shouldn't be treated in a manner befitting supernatural beings. That especially should be the case in college basketball and football, which are billion-dollar businesses.

The great line to describe the "speak no evil" mandate came years ago from former Maryland football coach Bobby Ross, shortly after he was suspended from sideline participation by the ACC for a game.

A year or two after that sanction, Ross again left a game irritated about what he had seen from the crew, but he had learned his lesson. Asked his opinion on the calls, Ross replied, "I'm not allowed to comment on lousy officiating."

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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