In the end, they had little bearing on USI’s beating Kentucky Wesleyan on Saturday at the PAC. Despite the three technical fouls those officials whistled on the Kentucky Wesleyan bench with 1:53 left in the game (two on head coach Happy Osborne, which got him automatically ejected and earned him an automatic one-game suspension for the next KWC game), USI didn’t take advantage, not when Orlando Rutledge missed six of the eight free throws he was awarded (although Rodney Watson admitted he made a mistake in that situation — more on that in the next post). Those free throws only pushed USI’s lead from seven to nine points, and KWC quickly cut that margin to six points over the next 33 seconds. But the Panthers couldn’t cut the gap further as USI scored 10 of the game’s final 14 points.
What those officials’ efforts did do was apparently all but destroy any civil relationship between Watson and Osborne, at least for the time being. After the game, Owensboro Messenger Inquirer reporter Cole Claybourn did his job — he asked Osborne what happened, then he asked Watson to respond to Osborne’s answers. The short version is that Osborne apparently thought USI pulled a fast one by hiring officials exclusively from the GLVC — implying that they would then favor USI because it’s a GLVC school — instead of hiring a mixed crew from both the GLVC and the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (the league KWC is now in after leaving the GLVC). Watson — who really, really does not like to talk about officiating, even when his team is the victim of terrible calls — did not want to respond to Osborne’s complaints, but when pressed, Watson begged to differ. He pointed out that “the contract stated that both assigners would agree on officials. That’s specifically how it was stated, and that’s what happened.” When Claybourn asked him to be more specific, Watson said, “The contract stated it would be a mutual agreement between both assigners from both leagues.” (I need to add that Watson was clearly irritated at Osborne’s questioning the way USI hired the officials, which is saying something because in my experience Rodney Watson wants to think the best of everyone and is always willing to give the benefit of the doubt). The upshot is that the two leagues looked to see which officials were available for the USI-KWC game and the three that worked the game were the ones who were available.
The best quote out of all of this comes from Claybourn in a tweet after the game ended: “Honestly, the notion a referee crew would favor any team because they’re from the conference they ref regularly is asinine to me.” Here, here!
USI fans should find this controversy to be especially rich. They loathe many of the GLVC officials and often think that said officials deliberately make bad calls against USI, both on the road and at the PAC. Of course, rabid fans will always believe stuff like that. I agree with Claybourn. But it’s easier for me to say that than he. In response to Claybourn’s tweets, one KWC fan tweeted back, “Not the conference affiliation it’s the history. Ever since the Harper probation GLVC refs have been biased against KWC.” He was referring to the GLVC slapping penalties on KWC for various rules violations when Ray Harper was the coach. Claybourn’s tweeted response was perfect: “I just think that’s a paranoid statement. They (Kentucky Wesleyan) lost because they couldn’t hit shots or block anyone out. Never led once.”
That’s why teams lose. Sorry, you diehard fans, but refs don’t lose games — players and coaches do. Yes, some officials’ calls can be truly awful (and I’ve seen plenty of horrendous officiating over the years). But if your team is doing what it’s supposed to do by playing well and blowing out its opponent, the officiating will never have a chance to have a bearing on the outcome.