OFFICIATING UNDER REVIEW: Coaches, Conferences and the NCAA Working to Collaborate

It goes without saying that any coach interested in how officials are evaluated by the NCAA regional advisors or during the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship should read the very clear “2008-09 NCAA Women’s Basketball “Officials’ Performance Evaluation Form.”

While doing so, though, they should also pay particular attention to following section of the introduction:

 Please note that this performance instrument was not created with the intent of replacing those used by individual conferences; rather, the NCAA women’s officiating program is interested in creating a systematic approach to selecting and advancing the best officials for its tournament. [Italics added]

Why the caveat?

This is often an area that is misunderstood by coaches as well as the general public” said Mary Struckhoff, the NCAA’s coordinator of women’s basketball officiating, “I think it is natural for people to assume that because the NCAA writes and establishes the playing rules, that it also oversees regular season officiating.


It is important for people to understand that each conference oversees its respective officiating program, while the NCAA championship falls under the purview of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee,” explained Struckhoff.

How a conference evaluates and trains officials during the regular season, what technology they require their institutions to use, how they decide to nominate officials for the NCAA Tournament, and how they communicate that information to their coaches, can be as unique as the individual conference coordinators themselves. It is also incredibly dependent on what resources conferences are willing and able to spend on their officiating program.

The pool of referees considered for Division I tournament assignments is made up of nominees from the 31 conference’s 18 coordinators. It is then the responsibility of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee to choose the 96 officials who will actually work the tournament.

In hopes of making the overall process of selecting those 96 officials more transparent to all parties involved, Struckhoff is putting together a document for all the conferences outlining the nomination process, the selection process, and the advancement process. “The advancement and selection are very different,” she noted, because “once you’re in, now you have to perform to be able to advance.”

Additionally, while balancing questions of jurisdiction, officials’ Independent Contractor status and the possibility of a National Certification process, the NCAA has instituted some requirements specific to the Tournament. “Three years ago we put in place a required exam for Division I officials interested in being ‘tournament eligible,’” said Struckhoff. “They have to score an 80%, and they get two takes.”

To support coordinators and officials, the NCAA has made just about everything needed to prepare – including quizzes, you-make-the-call videos, and on-going season notes and concerns from conference supervisors – available on its officiating website,

“Now, because not everybody works the tournament,” she added, “we’ve repeatedly said to conference coordinators, ‘Look, we can’t tell you to do this, but it’s in your best interest to tell your conference roster of officials, “You will take this test and we will get the scores.’”

While the test is aimed primarily at Division I referees, the content is applicable to all levels of officiating. Which explains why Struckhoff has noticed an unexpected ripple effect: a large number of Division II and III officials have been going online to take the test. “They’re doing it not because it’s a requirement, but simply for their own professional development.”

Speaking of professional development, most coaches willingly admit they don’t know the rules. Most likely that’s because they expect the referees will know them. But who, at whatever level of play, ever wants to be caught wondering, “Is it the clock or is it the horn that ends the game?” “What’s the difference between a Referee and an Umpire?” or “Under what circumstances can I ask a crew to stay on the court, even after they’ve confirmed the final score?”

With all the pressure on coaches to produce winning records, if they have an assistant track the timeouts, wouldn’t it behoove them to nominate an assistant as the designated “rule maven?” It would be their responsibility to conquer the rulebook and concentrate on the points of emphasis and officiating procedures outlined in pre-season NCAA officiating DVD. They could also engage in a season-long dialogue with their conference coordinator about the officiating program and the challenges around the development and evaluation of officials.

Now in his seventh years as the coordinator of officials for Division II’s Sunshine State (FL) conference, Pete Jenkinson would welcome time and input from his coaches — if they were willing.

Currently, his coaches use Assignor’s Assistant software to evaluate their referees. “They fill out this form,” said Jenkinson,” and they’ve always said that it’s too generic. And I’ve told the [basketball] committee for the last two or three years, ‘Listen, if you want me to put together a new evaluation form, it’s not happening. If I put it together, you’re not going to like it, so let’s work together. I want to know what you want to look for in a referee, and I’ll tell you what I’m looking for. Then let’s combine those things so that we know what were evaluating so that everybody is happy.”

A similar conundrum faces Andrea Osborne, coordinator for California’s Division I Big West Conference. She has spent the last 17 years building a community of officials that goes out its way to serve as mentors across the Divisions and age groups. Over the recent holidays, for example, of the five gyms she visited, every one had outside officials from lower levels there to support her officials.

“I look at this group of people,” reflected Osborne, “and they are so dedicated, they are so enthusiastic, and I think about all the extra time that they put in that the coaches don’t see or hear about…. Quite frankly, it’s a little disappointing. They perceive us to be the enemy. And yet they won’t put any quality time into looking at what we do, how we do it, or the amount of time that goes into it.”


Considering how many questions coaches have about college officiating, and how much impact they believe officiating has on the outcome of their games, it’s good to know there are coaches willing to take the time to seek out answers.

This past fall, for example, when Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph was on her “just before practice starts” vacation, she got an invitation from Struckhoff to participate in a coaches/officials discussion panel during the NCAA’s Division I Regional Officiating Clinic. She immediately cut her vacation short and flew back to attend.

“For me it was a no-brainer because I felt like it’s our responsibility to give back,” said Joseph. “Officials have done so much for our game. [It] couldn’t continue to keep growing at the pace that is if the officiating hadn’t improved as much as it has over the years. [Coaches] want the officiating to continue to grow and improve and get better. Well, the only way we can do that is for us to exchange ideas and thoughts and address issues.”

During the afternoon session, coaches and officials discussed and debated questions across a wide range of topics: travel fatigue, assessment and evaluation, recruitment, attitude and communication.

“Having that experience has really changed my approach this year with how I deal with the officials,” noted Joseph. She cited an instance when she asked how refs wanted to be approached during games. “A veteran official, someone I’d known for a while, said, ‘We just want to be respected. We want to be treated like you could talk to anybody else.’”

“And you don’t think about that,” admitted Joseph. “Sometimes I think with coaches we’re in that mode we use with players: ‘Take what we are saying, not how we are saying it.’ That kind of thing. And you have to shift gears right in the middle of the game — you got the intensity level of the coaches and the competition that’s going on — and then you have to shift gears how you’re approaching the official. I think that’s a pretty good point.”

The result? “I’ve noticed that I’m not always talking to the officials during the game, where in the past I always have something to say about practically every call.” In particular, she’s familiar with one ref she knows never appreciated her running commentary. “I’ve had him a couple of times since and I don’t think I’ve even said one word to him,” she laughed. “I’m sure he’s thinking, ‘What happened to her?’”

Having been both a player and a coach, broadcaster Debbie Antonelli decided she needed to get a more complete feel for the game she was covering. So, donning the regulation shoes, striped shirt and whistle, last fall she stepped onto the court with a group of officials participating in Bill Stokes’ (coordinator for the Division I SEC) basketball camp.

Since most of her fellow attendees were looking to move up to the Division I level, it was a high-pressure environment with many of the nation’s top evaluators and supervisors observing. “The officials treated me great,” said Antonelli, “but they also critiqued me like I was one of their own. They loved picking at me about calls and stuff. I thought my judgment was good – but my mechanics were terrible,” she admitted.

“They’re very straightforward about, ‘Well, you know you missed that,’ or ‘I would have had a more patient whistle on that one,’ or ‘you didn’t get into the right position at the right time.’ It’s all good critique, but hard, because it’s from your peers,” explained Antonelli. “Some of the officials doing the evaluations, they’re not supervisors, they are other officials. So they’re holding each other to a higher standard, which I thought was fantastic.”

Antonelli walked away from the experience with a much clearer sense of the passion these officials have for the game. “They understand that they have a very important role in the growth of the game. They are trying to do everything they can to call the game the way the rules committee wants the game called.” And, she noted, “They understand that judgment is the most important thing, more important than how you look in your mechanics. Because that’s what coaches want: the calls to be right. And they want the calls to be right.”

“I had the best time and I would do it again in a minute,” reflected Antonelli. “I would recommend that the coaches go through it. How about me, Gary Blair (Texas A&M) and Agnus Berenato (Pittsburgh) work a three-person crew?” she proposed. “I think it would be a totally different perspective for them.”

And, she added, with perhaps only the slightest hint of irony, “I think they would enjoy it.”

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