SALT LAKE CITY — Any discussion of refereeing in college basketball games often is an emotional endeavor, usually with the outcome of games determining the evaluation of officiating.
In other words, the refs often draw the ire of the losing team. Even if statistics suggest otherwise, blame the striped shirts.
Case in point, after Utah lost to Arizona State earlier this month, athletic director Chris Hill went hard at Bobby Dibler, the Pac-12 director of officiating. In a confrontation that wasn’t supposed to go public, Hill was heard screaming and cursing at Dibler while Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was conducting his postgame press conference in an adjacent room at the Huntsman Center.
The embarrassing episode — if it focused on the results of the ASU game — bordered on the absurd, considering that all the numbers the referees could influence were slanted heavily in Utah’s favor. Following Hill’s public apology four days later, the Pac-12 slapped him with a $10,000 fine and a reprimand.
“We all have been to a place where frustration makes us do things that we regret afterwards,” said former BYU coach Steve Cleveland in an interview with 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. “It didn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
The Sun Devils were whistled for a season-high 31 fouls, with three big men fouling out. Utah shot 36 free throws – 13 more than ASU – but the Sun Devils still managed a three-point win.
Perhaps Hill, a well-respected administrator in his third decade on the job at Utah, was upset on a charge call against the Utes with the game tied in the final seconds. ASU also got possession of the ball after a video review off a rebound that went out of bounds on Utah’s last possession.
Whatever it was, possibly including the antics of ASU coach Bobby Hurley, Hill uncharacteristically got aggressive with Dibler, who has supervised referees in multiple conferences for many years.
“It’s frustration that comes with this game,” Cleveland said. “The one positive thing there is that you know your boss is committed to the success of the program and he can be as frustrated as a coach sometimes. Athletic administrators, they certainly can share their opinions when they see things that aren’t right. But in that situation, it probably wasn’t appropriate.”
A former basketball coach, Hill also might be feeling the frustration over a program that looks on track to miss the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season. The Utes, who fell to 2-2 in conference play after the ASU game, are currently on a four-game losing streak in Pac-12 play.
The storied program has made only three NCAA appearances in the last 12 seasons.
“You’ve certainly got to protect your team when things aren’t right, but there are ways to do it,” Cleveland said. “The most effective ways I’ve found are just quiet times when there’s no attention and it wasn’t me having a finger in his chest or yelling or screaming. That, really, I never thought did much good. In fact, if anything, it just created more animosity and then a few more calls against me.”
It’s doubtful Hill’s outburst will have any long-term negative effect on the Utes, who were blown out in last week’s road games against UCLA and USC, respectively. His actions actually could lead to improved officiating in the Pac-12, which has too often been subject to question and ridicule.
Hill’s reprimand was the second in consecutive weeks the Pac-12 has had to issue. After ASU’s game that preceded Utah, Hurley got a reprimand for complaining about the officiating.
Of course, as usually is the case when coaches pop off on the refereeing, the Sun Devils lost that game to Colorado.
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