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.