The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 1, 2014

JIM SIEHL | Basketball officials never win

Jim Siehl
For The Tribune-Democrat

— Today’s column bounces from local politics to basketball after two previous articles concentrated on Jesse Topper’s successful launch into a new career as a state representative.

More specifically, the column deals with basketball officiating, beginning with a contentious call in the last 10 seconds that led to an assured loss for unbeaten Syracuse and exit from the top of the NCAA rankings.

An official disallowed a field goal, ruling charging as a Syracuse player drove the baseline and made contact with a Duke defender before banking in what would have been the tying field goal.

Jim Boeheim, a hall-of-fame coach in the waiting, exploded uncharacteristically off the bench. Tugging at his sports coat, he stormed onto the court in protest.

The Syracuse mentor of almost 40 years later said he had gone too far.

Officials promptly tagged him with two technical fouls and automatic banishment. Boeheim was later to say the ejection was only his second, with the first occurring in an exhibition game.

Rather than express regret for his actions, his concern was that a bad call had decided the game.

Any chance Syracuse had to win ended when Duke converted three of the four technical fouls, leaving TV pundits putting the blame on Boeheim rather than the controversial call.

Was it a bad call?

Yes it was – after viewing repeat televised playbacks. But one easily missed! In the split-time the action developed, if the official failed to see the defender slide into the path of the driver already leaving his feet (as was the case), then the call should have been blocking on the defender.

Officials can’t win on these charge-block situations.

Highly emotional partisan fans of course see it only their way.

From my experience as a PIAA basketball official for 20 years working with partners that included the late Hugh Crocker and Homer Rice as well as Dick Lucas and Gene Podratsky, making the charge call was almost sure to draw heavy jeers.

It really is not that hard to get the call right. Once a defender has established a position in front of the dribbler and contact ensues, if the defender has moved sideways or backwards the call is against the dribbler. If the defender advances any part of the angle, the call is blocking.

Once a dribbler is committed to the basket, a defender may not leap/move into his or her path to establish position, which is what the Duke defender did. Thus, the bad call.

Of all sports, basketball has to be the most difficult to officiate, with its speed and frequent physical contact. I always believed the difference between good and poor officiating is the ability to judge incidental contact.

No one wants to see a foul-shooting contest and unnecessary interruption of play.

One of my pet peeves are foul calls made against defenders clearly making good blocks on attempted field goals.

The hand is part of the ball. Any foul has to occur from the wrist down. Otherwise, the contact is legal and play should continue.

If there is one rule all fans know, it is the three-second rule. It is a violation to spend more than three seconds camped inside the paint.

As a result, watchful spectators are quick to gain the attention of the referees screaming:

“Three seconds!! Three seconds!!”

Good officiating ignores the violation if the player is in the process of leaving.

Looking back on the golden years of amateur sports in Johnstown, the basketball opportunity was huge. During a period from the ’40s through the following three decades, the city sponsored senior and junior basketball leagues and three highly-competitive Sunday school leagues flourished.

Catholic parochial schools were developing outstanding talent for the high school basketball program. The city’s population was more than 60,000 then with the steel mills and the coal mining industries booming. When those jobs disappeared, the exodus began, and with it a gradual decline in amateur sports. The city’s population now is in the 20,000 range.

Closing with a Bedford County flavor, Royce Waltman enjoyed a highly successful career as a basketball coach at Bedford High School, later as an assistant to the legendary Bobby Knight at Indiana University and then as head coach at Indiana State.

Royce left me with an indelible memory of a competitive fire that was part of his quiet disposition. After a District 5 playoff loss to Conemaugh Township, Royce came into the dressing room and addressed Gene Podratsky and myself. He complimented us for working a good game and then he said:

“This is what this game meant to me.” With that, he turned and punched his fist into the cement block wall, turned and left the room.

Emotions represent a big part of sports.

I guess the Orange fans should not be too hard on Coach Boeheim.

Jim Siehl of Schellsburg, formerly of Richland Township, retired in 1991 after 44 years as a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat.