Basketball recently celebrated its 130th birthday when James Naismith set up the first game at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, using a soccer ball and two peach baskets attached to a balcony 10 feet above the floor.
Naismith’s original 13 rules of what was then called “basket ball” were later printed on Jan. 15, 1892, in the Springfield College newspaper.
He likely served as referee for that first game and one can imagine that after he called a foul, someone likely disagreed with it.
This week there were two more videos on social media from around the country of a fan attacking a basketball official. A recent incident of a local official being attacked following a game was characterized as rare, but area officials have noticed a rise of verbal abuse during high school games.
This season I’ve seen more fans ejected and technical fouls assessed than past years.
It seems as if instead of enjoying the game, everyone wants to debate about it.
A survey of officials from 15 states in all high school sports at the end of 2019 found that 55% rank verbal abuse as the top reason why officials quit and that 59% don’t feel respeted by fans, with 42% feeling that institutions do not address poor fan behavior during games.
It also found that 80% believe fans do not know the rules to the sport and that 65% felt that more rules education for fans would help reduce verbal abuse of officials.
As a way to help, here are a few things fans can remember when going to area high school basketball games:
• Basketball players were once known as cagers because the game was played inside a cage to protect fans from the ball and rough play.
There’s a lot less of a contact sport than even a decade ago, but there is contact in basketball and that’s good. If a foul is called every time someone is touched at some point, the game is no longer nothing more than a free-throw shooting contest.
• Don’t care about the foul count.
A scoreboard only keeps track of the foul count so everyone knows when a team is in a bonus or double-bonus, which is why it stops counting after 10.
It’s also doesn’t have to be an even number for both teams. One side can foul more than the other because they play a different defense, not playing defense as well as the other team, or an offense is not being aggressive and settling for outside shots.
The same can be said of the number of free throws attempted, especially if one team attempts to foul more in an attempt to overcome a deficit.
Fouls are part of the game. Teams must adjust to the way a game is being officiated just like they must adjust to the way the other team is playing.
• Scoreboards are not official score keepers.
The only thing on a scoreboard that matters is the time, so that’s the thing the operator will focus on most. The score and foul count is kept by the official scorer (which also wears a striped uniform) and once there is time to confer between each other, they will get the scoreboard right.
• Block/charge fouls, and just about anything else, looks a lot different from the stands than on the court.
After over 20 years of watching the game next to officials on the court, I can report that the game is much different than seeing it from the sideline or the stands. One person’s point of view is different from another, but the only one that matters is the person with the whistle.
• Never yell out “over the back” after players rebound.
There’s no such foul in basketball. Encourage players to “box out” and “rebound” but don’t look for an official to call an over-the-back foul. A player can reach over another player for the ball but a foul occurs when one player pushes or holds another to gain advantage. Height or jumping ability is not illegal
While we’re at it … The three-second lane violation ends when the ball is shot and does not start again until an offensive player gains possession of the ball. … Walking or traveling with the ball is only called when a player has control of the ball, so if a player fumbles a pass, they can still be moving. … A player on the ground only travels if they move to gain an advantage or attempt to stand up.
• “To error is human, to really screw up you need a rulebook and a whistle,” said some basketball coach somewhere.
An official is a lot like a judge in a court of law or any other arbiter of rules, one that must be respected for the game to work. Part of the learning process of sports is to learn that those rules are not always fair or fairly accurate. How we react to those situations creates our reality.
If a player or coach is more concerned with an official’s call or no call they may not be focused on other, probably more important, things that can decide the outcome of a game.
Finally, a ticket only gives the purchaser the right to a seat. Admission does not pay for any other right or freedom of speech to abuse anyone — be it an official, player, coach or another fan — at any level but especially in games featuring younger athletes.
Current players are future fans and parents who will be doing the same — or worse — in years to come.
The next time you find yourself wanting to yell at an official, just don’t. It’s not going to change the outcome or their mind.
In fact, there’s only one appropriate time and thing to yell at a basketball official, as Southeast Missouri’s legendary basketball guru Tom Hoover always did.
When any foul or violation is called in the opening minute of a game fans are allowed to say, “They’ve been doing it all night!”
After that, fans should only worry about cheering for good plays or effort and if or when to head out for another round of snacks.