Opinion: Refs Almost Ruined March Madness, and the NCAA Has to Fix it.

With only minutes left in #1 Gonzaga’s round of 32 game against #8 Northwestern, Gonzaga Freshman Zach Collins stuffed a Northwestern shot with what was quite possibly the most obvious goaltending in basketball history. Not only did Collins have his hand completely through the cylinder, he also pushed the net above the rim to make it painfully obvious that he was committing a goaltending violation.

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Somehow, three referees missed this goaltending (SB Nation)

Three refs missed this goaltending, though I doubt even a single player, coach, or TV viewer did. Northwestern coach Chris Collins certainly didn’t, as he came rushing onto the court to give the officials and earful about the missed call.

Instead of reviewing the play, or simply acknowledging they missed an obvious call and moving on, the refs assessed coach Collins with a technical foul. This resulted in a 7-points swing where Northwestern lost two points from the goaltending, Gonzaga scored 2 points after the technical free throws, and then Gonzaga hit a 3 pointer. Nortwestern ended up losing the game by only 6 points.

The NCAA later released a statement defending the technical foul but acknowledging that the refs had missed the goaltending call, but this didn’t change the fact that Northwestern was eliminated by the bad call. This wasn’t the only game where a referee’s questionable call could’ve ruined the game. Refs missed a travel by #8 Arkansas’ Jaylen Barford in their game against #9 Seton Hall, and then assessed a questionable flagrant foul to Seton Hall forward Desi Redriguez with 18 seconds remaning. In the game between #2 Arizona and #7 Saint Mary’s, refs missed an Arizona player hitting a St. Mary’s player in the back, and then assessed a foul to the St. Mary’s player.

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Officiating in the championship game was some of the worst in the tournament (USA Today)

This all culminated in the championship game, where the referees were seemingly unable to let a single play go by without calling a foul. There were 44 personal fouls spit evenly among the two teams (that’s more than 1 per minute) which resulted in 54 total free throws. Neither team could ever get momentum going, and there were large chunks of the game where it seemed like both teams were only scoring from the line.

NBA stars, announcers, coaches, and more weighed in on social media, and the consensus was clear: the refs were ruining what should have been the best college basketball game of the year. There was no action, no flow, and no intensity from a close game between two powerhouse schools because there was a foul practically every single minute.

The NCAA has to realize that poor officiating will not be tolerated in a single-elimination tournament, and that referees should not take center stage over the players. Maybe they should invest some of the more than $1 billion dollars it rakes in from March Madness on hiring permanent refs, instead of freelancers with day jobs. Maybe they should build a real replay center, like almost all professional sports now have, and allow for obvious calls like the one in the Gonzaga-Northwestern game to be called after the play. Maybe they should also get rid of the archaic rules like the possession arrow, and just give us jump balls like civilized human beings. Whatever they choose, the NCAA has to do something otherwise the refs will continue to cast a shadow over the tournament and the product will never be on par with the NBA.

-Joseph Politano

The Fourth String team

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