The National Federation of State High School Assns. decided this year that basketball coaches should be seen but not heard. And they should only be seen sitting politely.
So the federation shaped a national measure--which took effect this season--that has become known as the "bench decorum rule" instructing referees to issue technical fouls if coaches get out of their seats and/or direct comments their way. The federation, reacting to incidents--mostly in the East and Midwest--of coaches inciting crowds against officials, instructed referees to enforce the rule closely.
An informal survey of some veteran Southland coaches and officials showed that the rule has affected a few games but that the coaches, though they abhor the rule, are largely behaving themselves and most officials aren't calling the regulation strictly.
Coaches are bothered most by the specter of a technical foul hanging, and are fearful of incurring one in a forgetful moment. The nightmare happened to Cleveland High Coach Bobby Braswell against Dorsey, where his team held a one-point lead with 30 seconds left and was trying to inbound the ball.
'I Stood Up'
"It's a very small gym, there was a lot of yelling and screaming, I'm trying to call a play and the kid with the ball can't see me," Braswell said. "I'm sitting down trying to call the play and he can't see me, so I stood up. I didn't take a step, just stood up. The second I stood up he (official) hit me with a T (technical foul). I was in a state of shock. For one thing, I had been standing up the whole game and they hadn't called a thing."
The result: Dorsey made both technical foul shots to take a one-point lead, scored on the possession and won the game. "It's unfortunate. It's a shame," Braswell said. "They took coaching out of high school basketball. I can't instruct these kids sitting down."
Another coach who has been affected is Jorge Calienes, who has put the T in Bosco Tech three times this year. "We lost to Damien. I got a T with 45 seconds left when I went on the floor to ask them (officials) a question with time out," Calienes said. "I don't think they themselves know what they're doing. It's chaos. I have a young team. I need to be able to talk to them and settle them down. It is taking away from the coaching strategy."
Palos Verdes Coach John Mihaljevich, an inveterate sideline pacer and kneeler, vociferously attacked the rule before the season, claiming it would affect his coaching style. "I'm a roamer. If I sit there with a rolled up program like John Wooden my team thinks I've given up," he said in November.
Threat Is There
Last week he said, "I've been pleased to see most officials basically are saying, 'We're not here to officiate the coaches.' I haven't seen coaches getting T'd for getting up and coaching. (But) I feel like somebody on Death Row who faces an execution, inevitably--you know it's out there. I hope the situation never develops where a league game turns on a technical in the last minute or two. It could happen. It's hanging over your head.
"For the most part I like what the officials have done. Basically, the officials and coaches are handling it well."
Another coach who said officials are generally showing restraint is Tom Maier of Chadwick. However, Maier said he got a technical in the Laguna Tournament for leaning forward in his seat. "If I had a hand grenade I'd have used it," he said.
The coaches agreed that consistency among referees is a problem, leaving them unsure of how to act. "Now when I come out I ask the officials how they'll call it," Braswell said. "The older officials say, 'You can get up and coach, it's a stupid rule.' It's not consistent. One game they don't enforce it, the Dorsey game they enforce it bad. It hurts. There's a lot of coaches out there pretty upset. And it puts a burden on the officials. Now they have to watch the bench and the game."
Consistency Called For
Eugene Perkins, who officiates college as well as high school games, said he instructs partners to be consistent. "If we let 'em do it (stand) at the start we've got to let 'em do it the whole game," he said. "I haven't called a technical this year. I really haven't had a problem with coaches. There's no reason. They know what's going on. They're not pressing it."
He added, "I don't think many (officials) are enforcing it. We'll probably be called on it because there are a lot of (supervisors) out watching us."
Ken Wilson, a supervisor of officials, explained the rule to a group of coaches before the season, saying, "Officials are expected to enforce it. . . . We don't like it."
He said the rule appeared to be a reaction to incidents in other parts of the country where coaches' antics incited crowd problems.
Several coaches respond that all coaches should not be saddled with the indiscretions of a few. "Whenever rules are made it's because of a few coaches and a few officials," said Harvey Kitani of highly rated Fairfax. "Individual coaches should be policed--don't penalize all of us. Baseball coaches stand. Football coaches stand and go along the sidelines. I don't see why they're restricting us to sitting."
He added, "I don't think this rule will last."
Glendale Coach Steve Keith, who hasn't gotten a technical foul this year, said he dislikes the rule but "I can see both sides. . . . It's a heavy-handed control for a small minority of coaches who make fools of themselves.
"I don't think it's that big a deal. I just feel they've kind of overdone it. It creates problems for the people (officials) it was trying to help."
'Should Vary It'
Bosco Tech Coach Calienes, who officiated for more than a decade, said, "There are other ways to control the crowd. . . . The rule is for incompetent officials who can't control it. If the problem is on the East Coast they should handle it there. They should vary it a little bit in different areas."
Braswell said he called a team meeting after several close losses including the Dorsey game, and his Cleveland players told him he didn't seem to be as fiery as in the past. "My kids told me, 'You used to get on us, pump us up a little bit.' They didn't know about the rule. I told them I can't anymore. They were shocked.
"I don't know how it passed."