The World Cup and NBA Officiating

Sorry about taking the weekend/Monday off! Work and the World Cup did me in pretty good. 

I'm assuming some of you watched some of the games? (Grayson... I'm truly sorry). Recent storylines in baseball, soccer, and basketball have had me thinking about officiating, and where the profession of umpiring/refereeing is headed in basketball. 

Exhibit A: Armando Galarraga

Quick recap for those that didn't hear about it: Galarraga, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, records 26 consecutive outs. On the 27th, he gets the out at first base, but the umpire incorrectly rules the runner safe. Gallaraga proceeds to get the next out anyways, is credited with a "1 hitter" instead of a perfect game, and Bud Selig opts for the "do nothing and hope everyone shuts up about it" route. 

This, of course, fired up the whole "should human error be considered a part of sport" debate. In baseball, technology has evolved to the point that the mechanism at the very heart of the sport- balls and strikes- can be automated. Pitch f/x can do away with variable, changing, inconsistent strike zones, the inside pitch being called a strike for Jack Wilson but a ball for Derek Jeter, the Greg Maddux outside corner. 

Most other sports don't have it so easy though. 

Exhibit B: The World Cup

Though the NBA has a partially tarnished reputation at this point, soccer has it infinitely worse in the United States. To many, soccer is synonymous with flopping.

And to an extent, such criticisms are valid. The art of selling a foul is an absolutely essential skill. Fouls do occur often, but conveying to an official that a foul has occurred is just as important as the foul itself. 

But at the same time, those criticisms are overstated. I started following soccer religiously last summer. Having watched at least 50 or 60 European football matches in the last year, I'd strongly contend that international football does a better job at discouraging flopping than does the NBA. 

At first, that seems silly. You'll never see something like the following video happen in the NBA. (I hate embedding Youtube videos, but this is one of the all time classics):

Fully deserves censure... if not ridicule.

You simply won't see anything this bad, period. In European soccer, you'll run across something close to this (probably never this bad) at least once a year, per league. But after you've picked yourself up off the floor on which you were presumably rolling while laughing, notice that Alberto Gilardino is actually given a yellow card for his antics. This is the positive side of flopping in soccer; you'll find it pretty often, too. In fact, the opening weekend of the World Cup already saw three yellows given for diving. 

The NBA doesn't have measures in place for referees to punish floppers. There was some talk about players possibly being fined, but I don't believe it ever came to fruition. 

Either way, basketball and soccer are perhaps the two most difficult sports to officiate because of the nature of physical contact. In baseball, physical contact really doesn't exist (though Carlos Santana might contend otherwise).  In football, physical contact is encouraged; referees are trained to look for specific illegal infringements. The complexity of basketball and soccer officiating lies in the nebulous nature of their rules (and in a way, soccer is easier because certain types of tackles are automatically considered bookable offenses, regardless of outcome). 

To me, it's interesting that people cite the "human element" in baseball officiating, where the umpire can literally add nothing to the game unless he gets a call wrong. In basketball, in the absence of such definitive technologies, referees actually can contribute positively- allowing free play between two aggressive teams, etc. But you'll never see the human element of basketball officiating defended. 

Keep in mind, I'm not saying NBA refs > MLB refs or anything of the sort. I'm just saying that quantifying officiating accuracy in baseball vs. basketball is inherently biased against MLB umpires. 

So what was the point of this? I'm not entirely sure. I just wanted to do a World Cup-ish post and figured this could spur more discussion than "hey Chris Paul could be a right back! and David West could be a left mid! and Aaron Gray could... uh... hey Diego Maradona's got kind of the same build, and he was pretty good, right?" 

And that's the end of that rant. More actual Hornets coverage tomorrow, I promise. Oh, and if anyone would like an open thread for tonight's Game 6, let me know and I'll put one up. 

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