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AROUND THE COLLEGE NATION
February 24, 2005

BAD CALL

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the disgrace that has become college officiating. The incident pointed out then was one that changed the outcome of a game on an obviously incorrect call. As I mentioned then, though, even worse than the bad call was the fact that the officials would not be reprimanded in public as was the coach who criticized their work. This week I glance at one particular official who, in this writer's opinion, needs to move along with his life.

Any college basketball fan who either attends games or watches them on television knows the name John Clougherty, perhaps the NCAA's most popular and well-known referee. And almost undoubtedly the most criticized.

At least in Starkville, Mississippi. That is where I had the (dis)pleasure of witnessing Clougherty's antics twice within a five-day period. Earlier this month, Mississippi State hosted Vanderbilt in a Saturday SEC showdown and came away with a six-point victory. The following Wednesday had LSU in town for a SEC West battle, and the Tigers went home toting an eight-point defeat of the Bulldogs.

It's obvious that the game of basketball has passed the man by. Just by pure observation, it appears that Clougherty is one of the oldest officials in the game. And when all knowledgable fans recognize you and groan when you step onto the floor for the first time in pre-game warmpus, then you need to step away from the job.

It is also not a good thing to be known as a biased official. Clougherty has a unique and unethical tendency to make calls against the home team. This is a widely known piece of information. In fact, just last season, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury made a special request to have Clougherty officiate the Dawgs' road game at Vanderbilt, a huge late-February showdown between two teams who went on to make the NCAA Tournament in 2004.

The outcome? Clougherty showed up and the Bulldogs claimed the 72-69 victory, moving to 23-2 on the season at that point. So did Clougherty affect the game? That's for you to judge for yourself, but it goes without saying that Coach Stansbury was pleased with the entire outcome of that late-season Saturday evening in Nashville.

And this tendency to favor the visiting squads is part of what makes Clougherty so infuriating. As much or more than his bad calls, it's his cockiness that makes the man an evil of college basketball. He feels his years as the man in control of the action on the hardwood has earned him some sort of distinction as the czar of college hoops.

An example of this behavior? How about two?

Both times Clougherty graced the city of Starkville with his appearance, he made a grand entrance out of the official's dressing room. While his two co-workers headed straight for mid-court as most do, Clougherty took a special moment of his own to let everyone know he was in town. That is, he began with the first man on press row, MSU Athletic Director Larry Templeton, shook his hand, and moved to the second, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, who just happened to be in the house that day.

He continued all the way down the floor, the full ninety-four feet. And though he didn't shake each and every hand, he did make a special point to slowly and confidently strut from one end of the floor to the other before finally joining his fellow officials a couple minutes later.

We move to the second half of the Dore/Dawg contest for a second example of Clougherty's antics. He made an extremely controversial call that, to this observer's eyes, was completely incorrect. Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings agreed, and a timeout was called. As most officials do, Clougherty took time to speak with Stallings about the call.

But not until he made sure everyone in the arena knew it was his big moment. As Stallings pleaded with Clougherty to make his way across the court, the official calmly held up one hand, as if to say "please hold one moment." As the MSU pom squad took the floor for the timeout, Clougherty waited until they were completely aligned so as there was nothing distracting anyone from the move the man was about to make next. Then, with a sly grin on his face, Clougherty slowly strutted to the Vanderbilt bench to explain his call.

Whether or not he could is another matter. The point is this: The game of basketball, especially college basketball, is about the players, not the officials. It's people like Clougherty who obviously disagree with this and instead make the show about themselves.

I said it a few weeks ago and will say it again. At that time, I said that since coaches are publically reprimanded for their comments on officials, the officials who make the incorrect calls should also be reprimanded in public. And this applies to all sports, not just basketball.

This week, I'll further that thought. When a player makes a mistake, whether it be on or off the court, he pays for his actions. When the mistake is serious enough, it can result in lost playing time or suspension, which usually requires a release from the athlete's school explaining the situation and the punishment enforced by the school and/or the team.

So when a referee makes a mistake, and especially when those mistakes come repeatedly from the same officials, why is this not made public? They are paid to make the correct call and officiate the game. To borrow an idea from New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards, I say this to Clougherty: "You're paid....to ref....the game." Nothing more. You are not the game, and the game is not about you. When you screw it up, your mistake should be made public.

TOURNEY TIME...CONFERENCE STYLE

The first of thirty-one conference tournaments around the nation gets underway next Tuesday, the first day of March. SCS.com will provide coverage of each event as it is taking place, including a daily game schedule, a run-down of each event's implications on the NCAA Tournament, and more.

The first NCAA automatic bids will be handed out Saturday, March 5, so stay tuned as the March Madness heats up early next week!

WEEKEND SPOTLIGHT LEAGUE

This weekend's spotlight is on the ACC. There are three crucial battles in that conference this weekend, a pair on Saturday and the third on Sunday.

At 3:00 PM CST, Georgia Tech and Miami will tip-off in Coral Gables with Jefferson-Pilot televising the game regionally. The Hurricanes stayed in the NCAA Tournament race by knocking off Florida State in Tallahassee on Tuesday. By most experts' predictions, the Canes are on the bubble, as is Georgia Tech. Miami needs just one more win to reach .500 in league play, but with an RPI in the fifties, will an 8-8 record be enough? A win vs GT is almost a necessity because UM wraps up the regular season at Duke. Looking at the Jackets, they played Duke tough at home Wednesday but still came up short. Tech still needs two additional victories to reach .500 in the ACC. A road game at Wake Forest won't be easy, but if they can win in Coral Gables, they should be able to knock off Clemson in Atlanta to conclude the season.

Also at 3:00 PM CST, Virginia Tech will travel to NC State. JP will also televise that battle on a regional basis. Like Miami, the Hokies need just one more win to reach the break-even mark in ACC play. A win in Raleigh would not only give them eight in ACC play but also a victory over a squad that is also fighting for a NCAA spot. Both teams have poor RPI ratings, the Pack at around 80 and VT in triple digits. Though that RPI is hard to ignore, it would be hard to pass up Tech if they finish out the season with three wins in the final two weeks and 10-6 in conference play. After visiting NCSU, VT travels to Clemson before finishing up the season at home against Maryland. NC State must finish the season with three straight wins to have a NCAA shot.

The final matchup of the weekend has North Carolina visiting Maryland on Sunday evening. That battle gets underway at 4:30 PM CST on FoxSportsNet. The Heels are obviously a lock for the Tournament and are just playing for seeding. The Terps' situation is much more fragile. After dropping a home decision to Clemson on Tuesday night, UM now finds themselves with some work to do in the season's final eight days. Though their RPI rating is near 20, an 8-8 finish in league play would make everyone feel better in College Park. A victory over UNC would clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament for Gary Williams' squad. However, if that win doesn't come Sunday night, they'll then have to try to pull one out at Virginia Tech, which won't be much easier.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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