If one of the many basketball games featuring major playoff implications this weekend comes down to a controversial call, the region's coaches already are unsure if the call will be the right one.
That much and more was gleaned this week from a Reno Gazette-Journal survey of the region's current and former coaches regarding Northern Nevada Basketball Officials Association referees. Names of respondents remain confidential to maintain the integrity of responses.
The refs received an average grade of 5.3 (on a 1-to-10 scale) in overall quality. The vast majority either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement "Referees are properly prepared to do their job."
"I believe that there are some very good officials in the association. However, I also believe that there are some very poor officials who have no business officiating varsity games," said a Division I boys coach.
Survey respondents were asked to rate the area's referees in a number of areas. The responses from 21 boys and girls coaches from schools in each division included both positive and negative comments. But overall, coaches felt local referees are inconsistent, less skilled and more confrontational than they were five years ago.
"The referees are arrogant, pompous and have some really strange attitudes," a Division III boys coach said. "My players find them unapproachable, and they have attitudes that they know what is right and the players' and coaches' concerns are discounted entirely. ... Overall they stink! And each week is a crapshoot to see what type of official shows up. I guess you could tie it all to a 'total lack of professionalism.'"
The coaches gave refs a 4.7 average rating in game-to-game consistency; a 5.3 for in-game approachability; and a 5.6 for the association's willingness to listen to concerns.
"With the nature of basketball, I would never expect to get constant thumbs up," said Skip Luckadoo, NNBOA president, who received a copy of the compiled results. "But the low rating of the association's willingness to listen to coaches' concerns surprises me. I thought that would have been higher because we have an open-door policy and many coaches use that."
Twelve coaches disagreed and one strongly disagreed that the overall quality of referees is better than it was five years ago.
"We have lost some very good referees in recent years and there are younger guys developing," Luckadoo said, "but the nucleus of the group is still intact."
Asked whether refs were more standoffish than five years ago, 10 coaches either agreed or strongly agreed, five were neutral and six disagreed.
"We play six (to) 10 games in California a year and I am still amazed that most California crews consistently keep a low profile and do not challenge coaches (especially those that are getting worked up) during a game," a Division I-A boys coach said. "... Unfortunately, this association still has a handful of referees that seem to think that they should be part of the game and seem to make calls and demonstrate motions that would back that up."
Coaches also questioned the refs' accountability to their craft.
"My biggest gripe is that officials don't seem to be held accountable for any of their behavior or actions on the court," a Division I boys coach said. "As coaches, we are held accountable by our athletic director, school administrators and NIAA for our actions. But who holds the officials accountable, besides themselves?"
Luckadoo, as he did last week, pointed to the preseason rules and fitness test referees go through each year, as well as the ongoing evaluation refs receive from the association's review board, made up of veteran referees.
"There is no mechanism in place (that I am aware of) that accounts for critiques from coaches with regard to assessing officials," another Division I boys coach wrote in the survey response. "It seems like a rating system should involve the coach, at least for a fraction of the overall assessment of officials."
Multiple respondents also said tension exists between coaches and referees. That tension came to a head two weeks ago when McQueen boys coach John Franklin took to Twitter to question the fitness, bias and dedication of the area's game officials. Franklin's 16 posts across two days followed a series of text messages with similar sentiments to Luckadoo and earned Franklin a one-game suspension.
Other coaches' reactions to Franklin's comments were mixed.
"Franklin was right and unfortunately had to speak out and get disciplined to get any traction to the fact that we can and should expect professionalism and effort from officials," a Division I girls coach said.
Another Division I girls coach said, "... Coach Franklin's comments, in my opinion, were out of line and it is going to strain the relationship between the coaches and refs for quite awhile. We will all pay the price for Coach Franklin's comments."
More than one coach also took the opportunity to offer solutions to the strain that currently exists between the two groups.
"Years ago, we (coaches and officials) had a communication summit regarding this very subject of coach-to-official communication," a Division I boys coach said. "I believe it helped and should be part of our preseason meetings with the officials. Currently, we meet regarding rule changes that, to be honest, can be done through email. We need real and honest conversations to help alleviate the current tension that appears to be present with us."
Luckadoo downplayed any tension.
"We have a lot of respect for high school coaches in this area," Luckadoo said, "... and we want to make sure we have a working partnership."