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‘Cooling off’ period maybe not worst solution, but taxpayers footing the bill stinks
by Dan Eckles - Commentary
Jan 30, 2013 | 2762 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
McQueen boys basketball coach John Franklin took to his Twitter account a little over a week ago and vented his frustrations with the decision making, appearance and effort of northern Nevada’s prep basketball officials. The NIAA, Nevada’s governing body for high school athletics, responded quickly, saddling Franklin with a one-game suspension.

Maybe Franklin, who sat at McQueen’s Jan. 22 game, shouldn’t have used his Twitter account to make his thoughts public, but I’m sure in his mind he felt he had few options to air his views.

That was just the beginning of the drama. McQueen hosted North Valleys last Friday. Staff from the NIAA and the Northern Nevada Basketball Officials Association (NNBOA) met prior to the game. Leaders from both groups decided it would be best if NNBOA officials did not work the game. Officials from the Winnemucca area came into the Truckee Meadows and worked the game last weekend.

I was shocked upon learning that news. The NNBOA is contracted to work games in the Reno region and officials are paid mileage. That meant someone had to pick up the extra tab of paying mileage for officials to come in from the central part of the state. That someone was the Washoe County School District, so in effect local taxpayers footed that bill.

I was initially appalled but over the past couple of days I’ve softened my stance.

“We tried a cooling off period. It was just to let things simmer down,” NIAA Assistant Director Jay Beesemyer said. “I think the circumstances surrounding this situation are a little different. (Coach Franklin’s comments) didn’t happen during a game. Officials are used to taking criticism on the court. When it becomes public like this. It affects everybody … This originated from our office. It was an option and it ended up being the one we took.”

I asked NNBOA President Skip Luckadoo if he was on board with the decision and if he thought it made the local officials look petty by not working the contest in the wake of criticism.

“I don’t know that there was an easy answer,” Luckadoo said. “Could we have officiated that game? Absolutely. It’s like flipping a coin. It could have gone either way. The bottom line is the game got played and there was no problem with the officiating crew.”

Still, the decision was far from unanimous. While I would bet most local officials thought the decision was a good one, I know they all did not. One veteran, well-respected official told me in recent days he thought the decision not to work the game, even though the NNBOA is contracted to do so, did make the group look petty. He wondered aloud, if coaches, administrators and officials are in the gyms working to give our student athletes a good product, why the adults in the scenario, couldn’t take the high road and work the game without bringing more negative attention to it.

I initially agreed, whole heartedly. I thought it was embarrassing that local officials didn’t work just because someone criticized their work. I get calls weekly from someone who doesn’t like my work. But I don’t take a day off because of it, nor would it fly in the eyes of my boss if I wanted to. Still, after further review a one-time break for local officials from Franklin, and vice versa, probably was a pretty easy solution with no real downside.

However, the WCSD was asked to pick up the mileage tab. That’s my biggest gripe. If the NIAA and NNBOA felt a cooling off period was the best scenario, they should have eaten the cost on the mileage tab, not the school district and its taxpayers. It doesn’t matter if that tab was $20, $200 or $2,000.

“I was contacted after the fact and asked to pay the bill,” WCSD Coordinator of Activities Brian Rothe said. “But if it was what was best for the kids to solve the immediate issue, I’m all for it. That’s what this is all about, getting the best for our students … I think this was a stopgap measure to solve a problem in a short amount of time. I haven’t seen the bill yet so I don’t know the extra charges.”

High school basketball officials and hoop coaches may have the most contentious relationship of any prep sport. I think it’s because of the proximity of coaches to officials and the stands to the floor. More negative, emotional comments are heard by officials and coaches from each other. There is no buffer so when emotions run high, more things are heard and then more responses are made and then more things are said, few of which are likely positive.

•I sat down with Luckadoo for an hour on Tuesday afternoon. We talked about the process for those interested in becoming officials. We talked about ongoing training as well as the certification and testing that takes place for officials.

The veteran official stressed that it is hard work to become an official and harder work to be a good one. He said his 115-member association staffs 2,700 games each winter. That is a lot of work. Luckadoo is invested in the NNBOA, its image and the performance of its members.

I’m just a high school sports reporter, but I’ve seen hundreds of prep hoop games in my 16-year tenure in northern Nevada. I’ve seen officials do great work and in some instances some not so great work. There is human error in officiating just like there is human error in sports writing. I’ve come to understand that as has Luckadoo, his officials and coaches.

Luckadoo said he’d wished Franklin had vented his frustrations directly to him and not through the eye of social media to everyone who wanted to view.

“Officials have a meeting with coaches every year. It’s mandated by the NIAA,” Luckadoo said. “We have to communicate. I always say that I’ve got an open-door policy and will continue to have one. I’ve asked every coach to call me if they have frustrations. I’ve said we can set up a meeting, look at game film … That’s what I wish Coach Franklin had done because then it would be water under the bridge. We wouldn’t be where we are now.”

Luckadoo is probably right on that issue. It may have been better for Franklin to go that route, but hindsight is 20/20. For all the unkind words said publicly and privately, all parties involved are all basically still in the same situation. The games go on.

Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune’s managing editor. He can be reached via email at: deckles@dailysparkstribune.com.
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