ANARCHY ON COURT AND FIELD
Not long ago a football referee received from an American Marine captain an unsolicited award: a trophylike structure capped by the calcium-white skull of a Japanese war casualty. An inscription below identified the referee as the Biggest Bonehead of the Year. A statue without arms was presented to another referee in acknowledgment of his outrageous yardage measurements. There have since been less whimsical, more cogent attempts to put officials in their place, but the unfunny fact remains that referees of football and basketball games today are being accused of worse blunders than ever before.
There is ample evidence that some officials are guilty as charged. But there is just as much evidence available that not all the fault lies with the officials. Embattled coaches, whose behavior on the bench sometimes goads tense crowds to riot; pusillanimous administrators who fail to back up the officials; constantly changing rules and rule interpretations; and, finally, a distressing decline in athletic morality—all of these things have had a part in lowering the general level of officiating. So many good men have been driven out that the games now face a growing shortage of qualified officials.
Indications of lawlessness, whether caused by poor officials or the coaches, the players or the crowds, are not hard to find. A fusillade of beer cans and whisky bottles interrupted an already chaotic basketball game between NYU and Manhattan in Madison Square Garden three weeks ago. Texas police are now investigating the possibility that officials may be rigging Southwest Conference games. Football games last fall produced some celebrated gaffes by officials. In a Dallas-Boston American League game, Dallas, trailing 28-21, came to the Boston two-yard line with time running out. Quarterback Cotton Davidson tried a pass. A spectator ran into the end zone, arms flailing at the ball, semaphore fashion, and the pass fell incomplete. There was no call for a replay, and the game was over. In a game at Wisconsin, a long pass that put Utah in scoring position for a possible tie was called back when an ineligible receiver was detected downfield. "It ended in a 5," said the referee when Utah Captain Ed Pine challenged him to name the offending player's number. Pine's was 55, but he was flat on his back at the line of scrimmage; the only other player wearing a number ending in 5 was a fullback—and a most eligible receiver.
The Notre Dame- Syracuse result was and is still controvertible because of an official who mistakenly—as it turned out—awarded Notre Dame a chance for a postgame field goal.
These incidents are only a few of many that could be cited to mark a distressing trend: the public loss of faith in officiating and a major break in relations between coaches and officials. Both groups recognize the crisis, but they seem as blind to its real nature as men describing the elephant they have explored only by fingertip.
It may be helpful to examine the charges the coaches and officials make against each other. First, the coaches' case:
1) Officials are too old and too fat, and they are guessing on plays they can no longer keep up with. ("One was so overweight he couldn't run in our game at West Virginia," said Villanova's Jack Kraft after a basketball loss. "I've been an official myself. I know incompetence when I see it.")
2) Officials are "homers," i.e., less likely to bear witness against the sins of the home team. ("The home court advantage this season means more than ever in my 10 years of coaching," said John Benington of St. Louis University.)
3) Officials are either picky and whistle-prone or they are lax and allow anything short of the use of firearms. They seem to have no uniform standard. Only 15 fouls were called in the St. Louis-Ohio State game, which was especially rough ("I know darn well there were more than that," said OSU's Fred Taylor, exasperated); nine days later, 60 were called in the St. Louis-Notre Dame game. ("I don't think we could play the game that much differently," said St. Louis' John Benington.)