Thursday, October 8, 2009

Replacement Refs Struggle in Detroit

Replacement Refs Struggle in Detroit

Will BynumFor the second game in a row, replacement officials have completely botched routine free-throw procedures in Detroit.

During Monday's game between the Pistons and the Heat, the referees failed to whistle a dead ball after Ben Wallace tossed up an air ball on a free-throw attempt in the first half. Worse yet, in the fourth quarter, the officials allowed Will Bynum, a career 77.8% shooter from the stripe, to shoot free throws for Maceo Baston, only realizing their mistake after Miami's bench complained when Bynum drained them both. After conferring, the officials took the points off the board and sent Baston to the line, where he missed both attempts.

Bynum pleaded innocence after Monday's game, telling FanHouse he heard a referee tell him to take the line. From the officials' perspective, I'm not sure what's worse: Bynum telling a fib, which shows how easily they were fooled; or Bynum telling the truth, which proves that all three refs weren't on the same page. Either way, it looks bad ... but not as bad as what happened Wednesday.

From the recap:
Ersan Ilyasova was fouled while shooting a jumper and awarded two free throws. During the next timeout, more than 90 seconds later, the officials decided he had been taking a 3-pointer, and gave him another shot.

He made it, but [Tayshaun] Prince pointed out that the error was only correctable within 24 seconds, so the point was taken away from Milwaukee.

``I told him that they couldn't change it after five minutes or whatever it was, and he said 'yeah, you're right,''' Prince said. ``Then I had to remind him to tell the scorer's table to take it back off the board.''
So the refs not only blew the initial call, but they didn't know how to fix their mistake, needing a player to set them straight. For some reason, I'm thinking Steve Javie or Dan Crawford gets that right the first time.

Will embarrassing miscues like these force the NBA into a corner and lead to a new deal being struck with the regular referees? Perhaps, but even if a new contract is signed before the start of the regular season, it may be a coincidence.

One popular theory among NBA folk is that the league isn't as concerned about forcing the referees' union into making concessions so much as proving to the players' union that they're willing to play hardball once it comes time to negotiate their deal. It's a risky maneuver from a public relations standpoint, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it's possible.

Consider this: if I didn't tell you about the mistakes made by the replacement crews, would you have heard about them? Hardly anyone attends these games -- arenas are generally half full, regardless of reported attendance figures -- and most teams only have two or three preseason games televised. TV highlights are distilled to a handful of key plays, and sports talk radio is dominated by football and MLB playoffs.

In other words, your average fan won't have a clue how awful the stand-in officials are until the regular season, and even then there's a grace period of at least a month before casual fans really start paying attention, meaning David Stern can make his stand now without massive public outcry. If the interim weren't so abysmal for those of us paying attention, I'd almost say the strategy is genius.

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