Friday, June 18, 2010

Soccer comes to Roundball

The NBA Finals are over, and sadly, the good guys lost. This one was decided before the game even began, when Kendrick Perkins went down in game 6 with a season-ending knee injury. But beyond that, the referees had a large say in how this whole series was played. Right from the opening tip in Game 1, the officiating was as much a part of the story as was the play. I cannot recall a basketball series where refereeing took center stage like that.

One local Boston sports radio show even had regular updates and analysis about the refereeing, as provided by former NBA ref and gambler-turned-prison bride Tim Donaghy. While I will refrain from making any personal judgments about the low-life piece of dirt that jeopardized the integrity of officials in all sports, the mere fact that a referee is making daily analysis about other referees during the morning drive time is significant. Clearly something is going on, and refereeing is the story.

Which reminds me of another sport I like. Soccer refereeing has always been subject to scrutiny, and we are used to being the center of attention. Soccer referees seem to have a greater influence on the pace and tempo of the game than do officials in other sports, at least in the minds of the coaches and spectators. I almost feel sorry for some people who apparently go to the park just to spend two hours screaming at the referees. They are missing a good game!

So how long will it be before the World Cup brings in a referee for occasional analysis, instead of an endless parade of former players? I certainly like the thoughtful contributions of Jurgen Klinnsman, John Harkes and the rest of lot, but they clearly know next to nothing about what is in the referees' minds and can offer little about why something happens, other their own [player's] opinion about the validity of the call.

Certainly by now there are enough soccer referees who are out of work due to circumstances beyond their control, that would make very good analysts for a major event like the World Cup. They could be in-studio and only consulted when needed, such as in the 33rd minute of the Greece V Nigeria match yesterday when Kaita was given a straight red card. That decision changed the fortunes of the team and the entire group. What was going through the referee's mind at that critical moment? ESPN viewers will never know.

I wonder what Lu Jun is doing these days, and how is his English?

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