You make the call

Officials need to be flawless in the final minute. The first 39 minutes matter. The final one matters most.

That is the message from the Missouri Valley Conference after disciplining referee Rick Randall for his performance in last week’s Wichita State game against Southern Illinois. Randall made a goal-tending call in the final seconds that gave SIU a 64-62 win.

“This particular disciplinary action was based more on the overall performance in the game by the official and NOT about a specific call,” MVC commissioner Doug Elgin wrote in an e-mail. “There has to be an understanding of game situation in making calls.  We particularly strive to be accurate in calls in the final moments of games – that way, the players ultimately decide the outcome of games.”

The second part of that statement is more important than the first. The call Randall made was incorrect, but forgivable when seen in real time. The bigger issue is the timing – the final seconds of a close game. In that situation, the disciplinary action says, the violation can’t be a open for debate. It’s got to be obvious. Two other two officials seemed happy to let Ehimen Orukpe block the shot and send the game to overtime.

“Good officials are those who take into consideration game situations when making calls,” Elgin said. “Using judgment and good common sense is required in those situations.”

Let’s pause here for the disclaimers.

1) Randall may well be a good official who had a bad night. I’m not qualified to judge. I know he’s done NCAA Tournament games. This season, he worked MVC, Big 12 and Mountain West games, all of which suggests a high level of competence. I don’t pay great attention to referees, which WSU coach Gregg Marshall says makes me foolish and naive, and he may be right. I see referees as largely neutral forces, some of whom are better at their jobs than others and  subject to human emotions. Marshall, whose job depends on how those referees work, sees things somewhat differently. 2) If WSU plays better for the first 39 minutes against SIU, that situation never happens. 3) Elgin points out officials are human – capable of mistakes just as players and coaches are – and that most of their calls are correct.

While we don’t know how often officials are disciplined (the MVC rarely makes it public), you can be sure that Elgin and coordinator of officials Eddie Jackson exchange plenty of calls and texts from coaches and administrators at all 10 MVC schools. Ultimately, it is Jackson who judges an official’s performance.

“Eddie watches every game and every play,” Elgin said. “There’s a lot of evaluation. There’s a lot of education when things aren’t handled right.”

Elgin has a lot of high-profile history with WSU and officiating. He was at SIU Arena that night. Neither  item caused the disciplinary action, he said. Neither did WSU’s national ranking. Had Drake’s Seth VanDeest goal-tended that shot, the reaction remains the same, Elgin said.

“Every game is important to the two teams that are in it,” he said.