NCAA Holding Basketball Clinics for Refs, Coaches

The Washington Post

Having been a college professor for many years, Henry O. Nichols is accustomed to lecturing large groups. He is comfortable before a microphone, smooth and articulate. This time, though, the metaphor he had chosen to make his point was a bit unusual.

The subject was refereeing a college basketball game. When Nichols isn’t being a dean of students at Villanova, he is one of basketball’s best officials and, for the last two years, he has coordinated the fledgling NCAA officials program. His audience last Saturday consisted of Division I coaches and referees.

“Do you remember The Ted Mack Amateur Hour?” he asked rhetorically. “The guy who won was always the accordion player who came out and played ‘Lady of Spain.’ Why did he win? Because he would take that accordion” -- Nichols held his hands up as if holding an imaginary accordion -- “and spread it further and further until he could play every single note.


“If he let it go too far, it would fall apart because he was stretching. If he pushed it back too far, it wouldn’t sound as good because he would be leaving out some notes. The key is to let the accordion out just far enough so that you can play all the notes.”

Nichols paused. “That is what refereeing a basketball game is all about. You have to let the players go far enough to play all the notes in the game. If you go too far, the game falls apart. If you restrict them too much, the game doesn’t have all its notes.

“And remember,” he added, “always try to be consistent.”

Consistency is the main reason why Nichols and Ed Steitz, the secretary of the NCAA Rules Committee, spent most of October traveling the country to hold clinics like this one. There were to be eight in all, the last of them scheduledfor Saturday in Greensboro, N.C. Attendance was excellent for a good reason.

Any Division 1 head coach who fails to attend one of the clinics is subject to NCAA sanctions. Any referee who does not show up will lose work and perhaps the chance to work in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a good thing,” said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, in spite of waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get to the Newark clinic. “Now, we’ve all heard the same things, coaches and referees all over the country. I know if a guy does something different during a game than what Ed and Hank said today, I’ll remind him quickly.”

That may not be easy. By far the most controversial rule introduced during the clinics regards bench decorum. Once the game begins, officials are instructed not to talk to coaches at all -- unless something happens that requires a rules interpretation. Then, both coaches are to be called in to consult.


“We aren’t trying to muzzle you,” Nichols told the coaches. “We’re just trying to help the officials do the best, most professional job they can. You can talk to them, but they can’t respond to you. And when they don’t want to hear you anymore, they’ll give you one warning.”

If a coach is abusive, he can be assessed a technical. But once a coach has been warned, he knows that the next time he says anything at all, he is likely to draw a technical.

“I don’t like it at all,” said Georgetown Coach John Thompson, a man noted for his bench eloquence. “A good referee doesn’t need that to get me to be quiet. It’s the bad ones this protects. It promotes incompetence.”

Thompson was going to make this point during the meeting Saturday. But as he started to raise his hand, he noticed a television camera, routinely taping the proceedings to use a couple of cuts during the network TV season.

Thompson was not about to become a highlight. When the meeting ended, he cornered Steitz to let him know what he thought of the camera -- and the no-talk rule.

Gary Williams, the coach at Ohio State, agreed with Thompson: “John’s right about it protecting bad officials. You can legislate all you want, but you can’t legislate good officiating. If a guy is good, he’ll handle you without any problem. If he isn’t, he won’t, no matter what the rules are.”


One coach who liked the rule was Pittsburgh’s Paul Evans, who found life difficult at times last year as a rookie coach in the Big East when he faced such renowned bench jockeys as Thompson and St. John’s Lou Carnesecca.

“If they enforce, it, I think it’s great,” Evans said. “Let’s see what happens, though. I promise you, the minute I see a guy talking to John or Louie or anybody, I’ll write him up (report him) in a second.”

The clinics each lasted about four hours. Steitz began by going through new rules, the most significant being an increased emphasis on calling intentional fouls, especially at the end of a game. Under the new rule, any intentional foul will result in two shots and possession of the ball -- even when a player is fouled in the act of shooting and makes the shot.

Nichols then took the coaches and officials through two tapes on “points of emphasis” for this season. Look for players drawing more charging calls. Nichols noted on the tape that people often forget that once a player establishes defensive position he can move his body and even jump straight up into the air and still draw a charge.

“This is a good idea, in terms of consistency around the country,” said Seton Hall Coach P.J. Carlesimo. “I didn’t hear anything in here I didn’t know, but maybe some guys did. If so, then it was worth it.”

This is the second year Nichols and Steitz have conducted the clinics. Last year, each Division I school was required to send an assistant coach or face sanctions. This year, the NCAA stepped up the program by requiring that head coaches attend. Any head coach who has not gone to one of the clinics by Saturday will be reported to the NCAA.


Technically, the NCAA could take away his conference’s automatic tournament bid or decide not to invite any officials from his conference to the tournament. More likely, the coach and school will be reprimanded and perhaps fined. Four coaches who were supposed to show up in Newark did not. They are not big-name coaches.

“We send their names to the NCAA right away if they don’t show up where they’re supposed to,” Nichols said. “But as long as they show up somewhere, they’re okay. Last year, Dartmouth had to send someone to the California clinic because they had missed the others.”

The main reason for the clinics is to try to get everyone in the country officiating the same way. For years different leagues have had different reputations: ACC, finesse; Big Ten, brutal, for example. The NCAA would like everyone to call games the same way all the time. Thus, the clinics, which are funded by the huge profits derived from the NCAA Tournament each year.

The clinics were not without light moments. The coaches were quick to notice that in all the drawings and diagrams that Steitz used to demonstrate the new rules, the depiction of the coach was that of a bald, fat man. The officials were slender and full of hair.

And, when Carlesimo approached Thompson during a break to say hello, Thompson acted for a moment as if he was horrified to see Carlesimo, whose team beat Georgetown twice last year. “Stay away from me,” he shrieked. “I don’t want to see you.”

An hour later, when the clinic ended, Carlesimo gave Thompson a ride to the airport. After all, it is only October.