Pay or Punish. Just Do Something.

Let me paint a picture for you. It is this past Monday night; you have just opened another beer and are toasting with your friends. Why? Being the smart gambler that you are, you placed a significant wager on the San Antonio Spurs over the Dallas Mavericks, and the Spurs are up 111-109 with 15 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Even more important, by betting on the Spurs, the Sportsbook gave you 4.5 points because the game is in Dallas. No need to worry about that now because the Spurs look like a lock to win outright.

“This game’s over. Finley’s three-pointer sealed the game,” your friend says.

Dallas comes out of their timeout and predictably feeds the basketball to their star, Dirk Nowitzki. You are counting down the seconds, waiting for the final shot and the game to end, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8. Dirk is simply backing down in the paint and covered by San Antonio’s defensive stopper, Bruce Bowen. All of a sudden, a whistle blows, but nothing really happened. Did Dallas call a timeout? Nope. The referee calls a personal foul on Bruce Bowen, and the Spurs are over the foul limit.

“WHAT, are you serious?” you start to scream. “Nothing happened!”

A little bead of sweat begins to form on your brow, and you crouch about five inches from the television. Nowitzki calmly makes the first free throw. You cannot believe this is happening. Nowitzki calmly makes the second free throw. Duncan misses a last second shot, and the game goes into overtime. You still have the spread, but of course, the Mavericks end up winning the game, 123-118. Your money is gone. In the span of a second, you went from euphoria to depression. Why? Did you pick the game wrong or celebrate too early?

No, poor officiating once again ruined another close game in another crucial situation. Why is the officiating so bad? There are two reasons. First, the salaries are too low, considering the power that these officials possess. For NBA refs, salaries can be as low as $90,000 per year. This may seem high, but it is not when compared to what players and coaches make. Furthermore, these officials are human, and there has to be some resentment that these guys control million dollar players, but make less than $100,000. This contributes to bad calls, consciously or unconsciously.

Pay these guys. Put them on the same level as the players or at least the coaches. Level the playing field and better results will follow. I am not saying that refs should be paid millions of dollars, but they should at least receive more than they are making now. Some of these guys just do not care, and why should they?

The other factor is the lack of punishment from the League Office. After game four in Dallas, multiple suspensions and fines should have come down on those officials, but basically, nothing happened. It was not just the last play of regulation that was called poorly, but rather, the entire game. On a team, if a player is not producing, he is benched. Why not do the same for professional officials? There needs to be a possible punishment in the mind of the official to ensure his full effort.

Punish these guys. Again, try to level the ground and put the officials in the players’ shoes. Professional sports needs to put an end to the whole referee vs. player war and make a joint effort to create fair contests. This will result in classic games where the right team actually wins the game.

I will leave you with one of the greatest current examples of poor officiating, Super Bowl XL. This game was atrocious. Actually, the game never seemed to start but was completely dominated by the officials. The TV ratings were the lowest for a Super Bowl in recent years, and anytime a great play was made, it was simply reversed by the refs. Why did this happen? This happened for the same reasons I stated above.

NFL referees make as little as $25,000 a year and are considered part-time employees. Lonely sports writers make more than that. In addition, there was not really any severe punishment. This was the Super Bowl, one of the biggest sporting events of the year. People, we need to make a change across the board. If not, we are going to be left with these part-time employees controlling the fate of the biggest sporting events, and like it or not, our money is at stake.