Archive for Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stern needs advice to fix ref problem

Scribe offers steps to make sure NBA officials don’t get caught gambling on games again

July 26, 2007


Call it cynicism. Call it pessimism. Call it sensationalism.

But anyone who thinks ex-NBA ref Tim Donaghy - who allegedly bet on basketball games - is the league's first official to gamble is crazy. Anyone who thinks he is the first to bet on sports - or on NBA games, for that matter - is naive.

Commissioner David Stern appeared as emotional as you're ever going to see him during Tuesday's news conference in New York concerning the federal investigation involving Donaghy, a gambling ring and organized crime. But his much-awaited response missed the mark as he failed to take any responsibility.

Stern pointed to the league's rigorous system of checking up on its officials, even comparing it to the CIA and FBI, and labeled Donaghy, who resigned July 9, a "rogue ... criminal." The truth is the NBA had enough red flags to eject an entire soccer team.

Donaghy's history of volatility and his alleged involvement in gambling in 2005 were enough to put the microscope on him. What's more, the integrity and ability of today's officials and the NBA's officiating system has been repeatedly questioned - by coaches such as Phil Jackson, by owners such as Mark Cuban, by former officials and by plenty of players.

This is a case of the NBA's arrogance coming back to haunt it. It's the same arrogance that prompts the league to give refs an increasingly larger influence - such as last year's crackdown on players arguing calls on court - despite persistent cries that poor officiating is hurting the game

I have some solutions. Like ...

More accountability: As it stands now, officials aren't available to the media, so they don't have to answer for their on-court decisions. What's more, players and coaches are fined for commenting negatively about officials.

The lack of accountability is magnified because NBA officials have what is considered the toughest job in sports because of the amount of judgment calls they have to make and the impact of their decisions. Yet, they are shielded from public scrutiny, and even their reprimands are done privately. Well, it's time to put them on the spot. Let them answer for their questionable calls. Let's make it public knowledge who is grading out poorly, when someone is chastised and when the league's evaluation shows the wrong call was made in a pivotal situation.

Fix the system: First off, there's a problem with a former player and front office executive (Executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson) being the evaluator of officials. It only makes sense to have a respected, former official in the perch, someone who's run up and down the sidelines in tight slacks and over-polished sneakers.

What's more, there's no excuse for 50- and 60-year-old men having to keep pace with 21-year-olds. It strikes me as odd that only one former NBA player, Leon Wood, has made the transition to officiating.

Relax the gambling ban: The NBA is so strict with its gambling policy - no blackjack, no slot machines, just horse racing during the summer - that it invites illegal activity. Let them gamble, just not on games.


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