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The Road to Varsity: Game Management is a Moving Target

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Scholastic season has begun and my initial slate of game assignments featured my first Varsity game December 9th.   Yay! When I received the notification of the assignment, I was so excited, I could not sleep! I immediately began preparing for the event by reviewing my goals with my mentor. I  decided to prepare for the match up by using the first 6 game assignments to practice. Areas of focus:  working with coaches, acknowledging their objections, court awareness of fouls and score; identifying problem players, and communicating with my partner(s) to ensure call consistency.

In the games leading up to the Varsity event, I was pleased in achieving consistency in all these areas, especially court awareness of fouls and score. In all 6 games, the match ups were relatively balanced. We called fouls early and saw teams adjust to our officiating style. Game scores were close; foul counts close as well with both teams in bonus.  I was pleased and approached my first Varsity game with confidence.

Game day! I arrive for pre-game 90 minutes before tip.The home team is a talented and disciplined team with a reputation of winning AAA State Championships. The visiting team is reputed to have a new, game changer, point guard. We anticipate a great match up. We agree to " a patient whistle" and allow a play to fully develop before we decide if/when to call a foul. The goal is to let the players play and allow a play to culminate in a try or tap for a basket.  If a defender bumps the shooter while in the act of shooting, let it go. If the point scores, play on; if it misses, call a foul.  Call "and one" fouls only if the shooter is fouled hard.   We agreed to a "tolerance" level of contact" on moving screens as well and if the player can play through the screen, let her. Our goal: game flow and consistency.

At the end of the first half, the visiting team was down by 12 and the foul count was 6 and 4.  Overall, we were pleased with our calls and at our half time locker room conference, we agreed to steady state, to call as we have been and still expect a ramp up in team intensity especially by the visiting team who, no doubt, would attempt to narrow the point gap.

We were wrong. The second half was not what we expected and was harder to officiate. The home team ramped up their aggressiveness. Even with a widening lead, they continued to press in the back court. They also scored several 3 pointers to take advantage of the visitor weak zone defense. The most surprising change was the visiting coach removing his starters and subbing in his second string team. The skill mismatch dominated the rest of the game and resulted in a 30+ score differential and a lop sided foul count. And even as the home team recognized the visiting team's virtual surrender during the second half, they never relented and continued to press, forcing turnovers and running the score up.   As a crew, we called more fouls on the home team, in an effort to "manage the game".   We  held our whistles on shooting fouls where the home team shooter was not "disadvantaged" by the contact of the less skilled defender.   Making a judgement on this kind of contact, during this kind of game one of the most difficult games I have ever officiated.   In fact, it seemed that  the goal of game management,  maintaining balance and thereby also keeping the coaches tempers "in check"- now appears to be more like a moving target, rather than an achievable state.  And no matter that our calls were relatively balanced, no matter that we practiced preventive officiating as we spoke to players to warn them in lieu of calling a foul,  neither team's coaches ever seemed satisfied. Lesson learned for me: Unlike the coaches of my earlier games, the Varsity coaches skill level and expectations of the crew elevate commensurate with the skill level of their players. In fact, the intensity of the coaches EXCEEDS the intensity of the players.  The officiating crew can control certain elements of the game, but we cannot control the coaches or their  strategy. The visiting coach's decision to make a wholesale change in his line up is not something we expected, but will in the future. And furthermore,  no matter how well a game is managed, how close the score, how balanced the fouls or consistent the crew,  at least one of the coaches will not be happy with the crew.