A major story in sporting news involves the basketball coordinator of officials in the Pac 12 conference offering a reward to his referees if they called a technical foul or ejected the coach of a particular team in the conference tournament. The league has done an investigation and declared the statement was made in jest and that there is nothing more to it; this despite the fact that during a crucial game the coach in question was given a controversial technical foul.
I want to get something out of the way up front. Officials cheat. They do it at every level of the sport. They are people just like the rest of us and there are always going to be some unethical members in every profession. To pretend there are not any cheaters is ridiculous. I’ve seen it in every sport I’ve played beginning with a called third strike on a pitch that was literally over my head when I was eleven years old. The umpire didn’t like me because I looked back after a bad call on the pitch before. He sure showed me.
When the referee kicked me out of the pool after my opponent elbowed me to the face he was cheating at the behest of the opposing team’s coach who was his friend. That’s a fact. Our team’s best player, Jimmy Croyle, kicked out for the game, three kick outs means out for the game, in the first period. Right. No cheating there.
When the St. Louis football Cardinals got the short end of call after call against America’s Team the Dallas Cowboys in the 70’s and early 80’s that was cheating. When NASCAR rigs races so Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins that’s cheating. When the NFL wants the New England Patriots to win the 2001 Super Bowl it somehow happens. Just to show I’m not totally biased, when the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team gets the benefit of bad call after bad call in their favor, that’s cheating too.
The referees know who the league would prefer to win a game. The vast majority of referees call the game to the best of their ability without bias, but they know who the cheaters are. They work with them every day. Sure good officials make mistakes from time to time but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about referees who use their power to slightly influence the game towards a result they desire. It happens all the time. Now we’ve got league officials openly encouraging them to do it? That’s serious.
The human element you say? You can shove the human element where the sun doesn’t shine. My chance for a state championship was stolen by a cheating referee and I’d be willing to bet everyone who’s played in any sort of competitive sport has a similar story. To the refs who cheat, maybe your son will come up to you one day and ask, “Why would he cheat, dad? Why would he do that?” You’ll know the answer, won’t you?
I hate cheaters and when they are the officials I get hot.
There is only one solution. We can fire a person here and there but the ability to cheat by simply “missing” a narrow judgement call will always be too tempting to resist. Only when we make emotionless machines the final arbiter will we get fair results. It’s not easy to do but there are some sports where it is possible, tennis with the lines and baseball with balls and strikes to name a couple of examples. Tracking devices in the balls to determine exactly when they go out of bounds, into the goal, etc. This is possible. The sooner the better.
For all the great officials out there, who do a difficult job to the very best of their ability, I salute you. The world needs people with that sort of integrity. To the cheaters, to those who encourage them to cheat? To you I can only shake my head and despair for the lives you’ve hurt.
Anyone ever cheated by a referee? Tell me in the comments.