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John Calipari really struck a nerve with former basketball officials, but will it have an impact on this season

John Calipari (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

There are a lot of interesting comments coming out of John Calipari’s preseason press conferences these days. One of his more interesting ones is how he believes that game officials are biased against the University of Kentucky and in certain instances his team is, well, I’ll let him say it.

“There are times we’ve got to beat eight,” Calipari said, “You know what? Let’s beat eight.” His implication is that there’s at least some bias on the part of officials that call UK games.

The funny thing is that he seems to have struck a nerve with some of his former referees, namely UK nemeses John Clougherty and Don Rutledge, both former SEC referees. But, as the great western novelist Louis L’Amour said, “Throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps the loudest is usually the one that got hit.”

Makes sense to me and it sounded like Clougherty and Rutledge were yelping pretty loudly. They said Calipari was “dishonest” and “bizarre” and Rutledge even went so far as to suggest that Calipari was a little paranoid in a conversation with the Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton. Rutledge said, “He was that way at Massachusetts. He was that way at Memphis. And he’s that way at Kentucky.”

Sounds like a totally unbiased observation to me. Sounds like Rutledge has been unbiased all the way back to the days that Calipari was coaching at UMass. That’s a long time ago. In fact it was 31 years ago that Calipari became the head coach at UMass. You wouldn’t think an unbiased referee would remember back that far.

The other interesting part of this back and forth between what Calipari said to the Rotarians and what the two retired referees thought about his comments was almost comical in this day and age.

Clougherty said, “If I’m the supervisor of officials, I’m making a call to (Calipari),” and went on to say, “I don’t think that’s something that you just do not address.” Clougherty ended his critique of Calipari’s comments by adding this little gem of a comment, “He wouldn’t have said it if his hand had been slapped a time or two when he talked about officiating,” Clougherty said, “so he thinks he can do it.”

Now my question in all this is not whether Calipari is correct in his assessment of NCAA officiating but why do NCAA Division I level officials believe they are so sacrosanct that they should be above any criticism? Coaches are criticized. Players are criticized. Why shouldn’t referees be criticized? Is the world of college basketball a better place if professional referees, some of whom make upwards of $200,000 per season, are protected from any criticisms of how they call games? Of course not.

They should be able to take criticism just like coaches and players and if they can’t stand the heat, in the words of former US President Harry S. Truman, they should “get out of the kitchen.”

So it sounds like a random comment that John Calipari made to a Lexington Rotarian group really struck a nerve with two former SEC basketball referees and I’m sure it struck a nerve with many UK basketball fans, as it should.

But the thing I am wondering about from this whole conversation concerning referee bias is what impact it will have on the “unbiased” referees that will call UK games in this upcoming season. I also wonder if Calipari will have a short lease with SEC Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Officials, Mark Whitehead or SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey concerning any future comments about game officials or referee’s calls in particular.

Knowing that former referees believe that UK’s current men’s head basketball coach is “bizarre”, they “have no respect for the guy” and think he is “dishonest” doesn’t make a person feel good about the possibility of getting referees who truly are unbiased in some of Kentucky’s upcoming games next season.

But then again, according to John Calipari, UK hasn’t had unbiased referees for most games in the past so it shouldn’t make much difference in this upcoming season either.


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  1. I have watched enough football and basketball games over many years to know that some of these stripes are not only biased, but act out on their bias in the way they call these games. It is not exclusively an anti-UK bias that I have seen, but I have seen enough anti-UK bias to believe it not only exists but has been used in evil ways enough times to make it noteworthy.

    The issue about officials being sacrosanct, why would anyone draw any other conclusion? They are protected from public scrutiny with rules that prohibit and punish coaches and players from taking issue with anything an official does, even to the extent of disqualifying a team’s most important player in that team’s most important game in decades (Can you say Benny Snell DQ’d from Bowl Game) and no one is permitted to state the obvious.

    My personal list of atrocities of this type is lengthy, and I will not bore anyone with my full list, but I will cite one from my long list. UK @ Tulane in the New Orleans Super Dome. After pinning Tulane inside their 10 yard line with only a few seconds left, and clinging to a 2 point lead, UK lost the game after back to back pass interference calls which were both bogus moved Tulane to field goal position with no time left on the clock, but since a game cannot end with a defensive penalty, Tulane got an untimed play to kick the winning field goal.

    It turns out the official who made those bogus pass interference calls was the college roommate of the Tulane head coach.

    No investigation. No public scrutiny allowed. Nothing to see here.

    Yes, these thieves are protected by a corrupt NCAA.

    So, when I read the reaction by these former officials to Coach Calipari’s remarks, my first reaction was, “The man doth protest too much.”

    UK football and basketball have been on the losing end of this type of biased officiating way too often for it to be mere coincidence or the law of averages against which all teams suffer equally.

  2. Thanks Prof., kinda made my day. If you’re a Kentucky Football Fan, you know damn well that we get the shaft far way more than the average. As regards basketball, can you recall almost all our key players setting on the bench the first half against UNCheats?…enough said.

    1. I was at that Tulane game in New Orleans, and after standing there for minutes completely stunned, I recall walking out of the super dome thinking that I had witnessed Grand Theft Football.

      As I look back on Fran Curci’s time at UK, I have good feelings about him and his tenure at UK. The cheating that cost his program big time hurt his overall record, but I have always believed he would rebound and bring the program back. But, the 1981 season with the way they lost to Tulane and some other very disappointing and inexplicable endings that same season, I thought it was the beginning of the end of the Curci Era at UK.

  3. To be honest, I’ve given up on fairness and a level playing field in sports, I finally came to the conclusion that it never existed in the first place. I now find more enjoyment in individual player skills/development and team progress during the on going season. Basing one’s whole enjoyment on a tournament that can be influenced by injuries, rigged seedings, agenda refereeing, and just pure greed, does not work for me anymore. The slogan, “if you ain’t cheatin, you ain’t tryin” has been replaced by, “win at all cost, and remove anyone and anything that gets in the way”. So much for my boring tripe.

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