Tom Keegan: West Virginia’s Bob Huggins a fountain of smart, original ideas, wardrobes

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins during an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State in the finals of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, March 11, 2017. (AP photo)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As he does every year at Big 12 Basketball Media Day, supervisor of officials Curtis Shaw explained new rules interpretations, including this year’s emphasis on enforcing traveling more strictly.

Not surprisingly, it was West Virginia coach Bob Huggins who on Tuesday had the most interesting take on officiating.

I know what you’re thinking: Most of his words weren’t printable, were delivered at high volume and would infuriate referees. Wrong, more wrong, most wrong.

Huggins, a fascinating study in contrasts, offered a plan that would help the game, referees, players, coaches and fans in the stands and those tuning in on TV.

“You want to hear what I’d do?” asked Huggins, looking retro-spiffy in a gold vest, black slacks, bow tie and black-and-gold wingtip shoes.

Of course. You always want to hear opinions from unpredictable, original thinkers. They make the most compelling teachers.

“I’d hire four officials and I’d have a sub,” Huggins said. “The sub would be the replay guy, so you’re not waiting the six-and-a-half minutes it took to find out the guy wasn’t out of bounds in our game against Gonzaga. Have a guy right there who makes the calls.”

He’s already sitting in front of the monitor and doesn’t have to turn it around for the on-court refs to study it, confer, look at it again, have another chat and eventually reach a decision in more time than it took Jim Ryun to run a mile.

Huggins was just warming up.

“At the 16-minute mark, you sub a guy out and you sub him in,” Huggins said. “At the 12-minute mark, you sub that guy out and put the guy who sat there for (four minutes) back in, at the 16, 12, eight and four.”

A mentally and physically fresh referee is more alert and in better position to make calls.

“You’re asking 60, 65-year-old guys to keep up with 18-to-21-year-old kids who are world-class athletes,” Huggins said. “It can’t happen. It absolutely can’t happen. And I’m convinced they call fouls sometimes just because they’re tired. They make calls to rest. They can’t run. And it’s not their fault. I’m not picking on them. It’s not their fault. So why don’t we have four officials instead of three, and sub?”

Huggins has discussed his why-didn’t-somebody-think-of-this-years-ago suggestion with referees.

“Most of them think it’s a good idea,” he said.

Why isn’t it happening? Follow the money.

“We can never vote it in because the low majors and the mid majors don’t want to pay for four officials, and they outnumber us,” Huggins said.

The NIT has been known to experiment with possible rule changes. This one’s well worth a try. And if the officiating is better — and how can it not be? — leave it up to each conference whether to adopt the rule and use it for every NCAA tournament game. Allowing conferences to have different rules would require a rule change in itself. Huggins even had an idea as to where such meetings should take place and a characteristic that should disqualify anyone from serving on the committee.

“You should have to be over 6-feet tall to be on a rules committee,” Huggins said.


“Because the little (men), they worry about the little guys, and instead of them meeting in Palm Springs, they should meet in Buffalo in February,” Huggins said. “That way you get the people who really care and they’re going to go in there, get it done and get out.”

As a 5-foot-8-inch native of nearby Rochester, I’ll have you know I am … not offended in the slightest. On the contrary, it’s always refreshing to talk to coaches who don’t size up their audiences and then go to great measures to ensure they don’t say anything that might offend somebody, so they say nothing at all.

Not Huggins. He always says something that makes his listeners think — a trait shared by all great teachers.