What would major sports events such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, National Football League Super Bowl or National Hockey League (NHL), Stanley Cup Finals be without poor sports officiating? Blown calls are part and parcel of sports. Whether you play Pee Wee, Midget or Bantam hockey or professionally with the NHL, bad sports officiating is a common occurrence. Does providing a report about how the officials performed in the last two minutes of a close game help? The NBA has been doing it for a few years now. Their Last Two Minute Reports tends to deliver results, but when those results find miscalls, the transparency ends. The league does not have any solutions to blown calls. If they do, they do not publicly announce around the time of the miscall. But fans that hear a play was miscalled, all they want is restitution.
Although it is easy to understand why blown calls occur, it is infuriating for fans (of the teams they affect), teams (the ones who do not get the call), sports leagues (makes them look bad), and announcers (they must explain the officials’ decision).
There are three opposing groups that do not mind blown calls, however. Of course, the teams they help (for obvious reasons), fans of the teams they help (again, obvious reasons), and pundits (just watch some of the commentators on all sorts of sport media networks today and you will see they have made a career of complaining about bad sports officiating) all love to see calls missed.
Indeed, fans are the most important factor in the equation. The fans are the ones who, without, professional sport would not exist how we know it. Transparency is the act of being open and honest, see through in a sense. Hence why the NBA introduced something called a Last Two Minute Report. Let’s be real for a second. The NBA had to do something after the Tim Donaghy betting scandal took the basketball world by storm from 2007 onwards. The Last
Aside from referees betting on games, which likely is a rarity, why do bad referee decisions occur? It is 2019, we have technology to see when a bad call is made. How can we not get things right even when officials know the rules and regulations of sporting events?
Blown Calls and Human Error
The easiest answer to referees not giving a foul is human error. Although we don’t want to admit it, referees are humans and they make mistakes. Despite our constant barrage of insults and profanity directed in their way in which they remain stoic like robots, referees are human beings.
Due to this revelation of referees not being mechanical, they make judgement errors in the heat of a sports contest. Sure, there are blown calls, but referees can get caught up in the moments of games. Take Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors as an example. With less than a minute left in the game, Toronto’s Marc Gasol was fouled by DeMarcus Cousins according to NBA officials, but the infringement went unpunished. Golden State won by one point, staving off elimination from the playoffs.
And after the fact, nothing can be done. This is where sport business principles kick in. Particularly public relations. How should both the NBA referee organization and the NBA league handle it? For the most part, Last Two Minute Report findings have been released in a simple presser. It very likely wouldn’t be noticed by most fans being hidden on the website. When it is found, it is done so by the media.
The emotion of the game at that point was high and referees can be forgiven for blown calls in big situations. In addition, many referees and even sports leagues will claim they don’t want sports officiating to dictate the outcome of an important game. Had a foul been called and Gasol’s free throws won the Raptors the game, just as many people would have blamed the referees for making a bad call on a non-foul. It is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.
Poor Officiating from Pressure from Big Teams
Now that we know referees are humans, we can also see that they fall into a trap when officiating big sports teams. Often times, referees can be bullied by players, coaches, or even front offices into making favourable decisions.
Soccer in England, Spain, and Italy has long seen fans criticize sports officiating with matches featuring the country’s “big clubs”. Conspiracy theorists point to favourable penalty calls, phantom offside decisions, and ludicrous red cards as evidence of referees being influenced by the biggest teams.
In 2006, Italian soccer was shocked when the Calciopoli scandal rocked the sport to its foundation. Investigations found a variety of offences by teams including the selection of “favourable” referees for certain matches.
Some claim the NFL’s New England Patriots influence the league and referees to get decisions to go their way. In truth, it seems all sports have big teams that sway officials to make beneficial calls. The Detroit Red Wings of the late 1990s received plenty of hatred from hockey fans over their favourable calls in the playoffs.
Last Two Minute Reports and League Transparency Programs Undermining Referees
The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report gives basketball fans the chance to see which calls were made or not made correctly or incorrectly. The league’s assessment is an interesting tool that undermines refereeing decisions. The assessment looks at the last two minutes of the game as the name suggests. The result of Last Two Minute Reports can be devastating to fans, especially when a Championship trophy is on the line.
Such was the case in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. The league released the Last Two Minute Report the next day. Looking at the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors game from June 10, of the 10 potential calls or non-calls, the NBA assessment claims just one call was made incorrectly. That was the non-call on Cousins’ foul on Gasol. Unfortunately, it is that one call people obsesses over.
Although the Last Two Minute Report can be a positive allowing fans to see what should have occurred, it also undermines the referee corps. Trust in referees is damaged when blown calls are pointed out by the league.
In the same respect, it can infuriate fans who are on the losing end of the Last Two Minute Report. One Raptors fan said, “What can be done about it now? The NBA admits the referees botched the game. But the biggest question is what next? And from all indications, nothing will be done.”
That fan is correct! Nothing has been done to repay the team on the losing end of the Last Two Minute Report. We’re sure the NBA teams will deal with referees who get critical calls wrong consistently. But that’s done internally. Not quite sure where the transparency in that is!
Hindsight is 20/20
Watching a play via replay makes it easy to second-guess a referee’s call. It is also easy to say the decision was wrong. Unfortunately, every play and call – or non-call – cannot be reviewed. If they could, then there would be no need for referees, or games would last forever.
Game 2 of the NBA Finals had a non-call that could have changed the game’s outcome. Steph Curry picked up his pivot foot while being double teamed by Toronto Raptors players late in the game. But Curry wasn’t the only player to get away with a travel violation. Two Raptors players also benefited from non-calls, so things evened out in the end.
Replay does a major disservice to sports fans. While they can go back and see the action that just took place, it prevents people from seeing just how fast the game moves in real-time. Professional athletes are quick, that is one reason they are professional athletes, and in some cases, a play occurs in the blink of an eye. Just like Last Two Minute Reports does not appease to all fans, neither does replay review. So it seems like the issue of blown calls, poor officiating and trying to find transparent ways to deal with it (i.e. Last Two Minute Report) is destine to continue.
While we can go back and criticize poor officiating like in this year’s NHL Stanley Cup Finals, referees are no different than the players. The players are competing to win and perform at their best. Referees are playing their part and also attempting to perform at their best.
It is easy to criticize blown calls and poor sports officiating, but until the average sports fan or pundit puts on a black and white striped shirt and attempts to referee a high-pressure game, they won’t understand what it is like.
And as a fan, it’s annoying when a poor call is made. Also, it’s heartbreaking to know your team could have lost because of it. So what to do with the Last Two Minute Report? Maybe scrap it, so we can enjoy our team’s wins in full grace and so the same with our losses.