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Officiating in Sports

Just this past week, the refs have been put in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons in the world of sports.

On Tuesday, Marian Hossa's apparent game tying goal in the waning seconds of Game 3 was waved off by Brad Watson because he ruled that he had lost sight of the puck. Anaheim went on to win that game, 2-1.

If you follow soccer, you've no doubt seen Didier Drogba's post-match meltdown after Chelsea FC was ousted in controversial fashion by an injury time away goal by Barcelona FC.

And just yesterday, the Dallas Mavericks were bit by a controversial no-call late in Game 3. WIth a foul to give and the Mavs up 105-103, Antoine Wright tried to give this foul up on the floor on Carmelo Anthony. Had the call been made, the Nuggets would have had to inbound the ball with just a few ticks on the clock. Instead, Mark Wunderlich decided what had warranted calls on the first 61 fouls of the day wasn't enough to warrant foul # 62, an Anthony rose up and drilled an uncontested three with one second left.

Denver went on to win after DIrk Nowtizki's last second heave fell short and all hell broke loose on the floor as Josh Howard and Mark Cuban tried to go after the refs. A few hours after the end of the game, the officials sent out a statement admitting the goof up.

Obviously, this isn't the first officiating controversy to ever occur in sports and it won't be the last. Hell, I'm betting Romans were calling up their local sports stations arguing about decisions made in the first chariot races that caused controversy.

Or, they would have had sports talk radio been around then.

But all levity aside, do these recent controversies indicate that officiating it getting worse? Or does it just 'seem' worse because of the technological age that we're in?

For now, I think I'll stay in the 'it just seems to be worse' camp.

Never before have sports fans had the kind of access to sporting events than they do today. Be it through television or the Internet, there are hardly any sporting events nowadays that you can't get. On top of that, you have video sites such as YouTube that have the capability of taking a video clip and virally spreading them online through other social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, and Twitter.

Special moments, funny videos, amazing highlights, and of course, blown calls across sports. Throw in the proliferation of blogs for good measure.

During the 2006 NBA Finals, the Mavs were at the center of one sports most infamous controversies when Dwyane Wade went to the line as many times as the Mavericks did in Game 5 of that series. His last two free throw attempts came courtesy of a very dubious foul call against Dirk Nowitzki in the waning seconds of OT. That call and the ensuing made free throws allowed the Heat to escape that game with a 101-100 win to take a 3-2 series lead and eventually close the series out in Dallas two nights later.

After that game, the site did an indepth analysis on the calls by the crew including a breakdown of calls be the three game officials, Joe Crawford,  Joe DeRosa, and Bennett Salvatore, who made that infamous foul call on Harris. Coincidentally, Salvatore was the cheif of the crew that worked yesterday's game in Dallas.

Officials have always been under a microscope when they miss a call at a crucial point in the game. These days, it seems like the microscope is much bigger.

If it has gotten worse, I have to think the fact that players are stronger and faster plays a rather large role. The refs, themselves, have gotten faster. And through the use of video technology, they're also able to anticipate plays and put themselves in the best postiion to make calls to help compensate in some way. I'd still say the players are out in front of the refs in this regard and as such, the officiating probably has gotten a little worse.

And as a fan, I'm willing to accept a missed call here and there. No matter how training mentally and physically these guys have received, they're still human and prone to make mistakes, just as the players are.

I'm also willing to accept that calls such as the one that wasn't made yesterday are but one out of several factors that figure into the outcome of a game. For every blown call you see, you can find 5 or 6 factors that occurred in a game because either your team didn't make a play or the opposing team did. As such, I subscribe fully to the Bob Sturm theory that you cannot blame your team's loss on officiating.

Even in that infamous Game 5, the Mavs missed three out of four free throws in OT, IIRC. Make one of those, and the worst that happens is that game probably goes to double OT. Make two of those four, and Dallas probably wins the game.

Where I have an issue is when egregious mistakes like the one Mark Wunderlich made, or like the ones the game officials and replay officials made during the Oklahoma-Oregon game back in 2006 aren't held to account by either certain members of the media or the organizations these officials are employed by.

How any of those Pac 10 officials kept their jobs after that disgrace is beyond me. And while I didn't condone the physical threats against Gordon Riese (this is, afte rall, JUST a game), the only reason he was without a job after that debacle is because he chose to retire. All the Pac 10 did was slap the game crew with a one week suspension (boy, that'll show them).

And it'll be an outrage if Wunderlich, or any other member of that crew from yesterday's game, works another playoff game this year.