And it's not Oscar Meyer.
I watched some opening night hoops the other day as the NBA season got underway. My interest didn't last very long. Just long enough to see that what passes for basketball in the NBA remains, sadly, an ugly, boring game to watch. That and the league in its definitely finite wisdom has seen fit to crack down on player expressions of frustration with the officiating by making any word or gesture that could be construed as an expression of frustration an offense punishable with a technical foul call. In the few minutes I watched there were 5 technical foul calls.
This was noteworthy on a couple of counts. As the latest move in the ongoing effort to spruce up the league's image and as exactly the wrong thing to do in the longer run because all it effectively does is add another dimension of discretion. Not too many years ago the NBA managed to (mostly) sweep under the rug a gambling scandal that saw one referee sent to prison along with the unproven allegations that others were also involved. This struck at the core of the league's legitimacy because if the officiating isn't fair and impartial the game stops being sport and morphs into spectacle or entertainment only. In response the league has largely tried to pretend there never was a problem and never will be. Which is probably the point of the new rule. Whatever residual lack of trust the public may have (or not have) in the officials is reinforced (or undermined) by public displays from the players. The practical result will be lots of silly technical foul calls for a few weeks which will slowly peter out until the calls are only made occasionally. This will happen because all those calls are annoying, break the flow of the game and continue to draw attention to the fact players sometimes think the refs missed a call (or three or ten.) The goal isn't to make the call, it's to reduce the incidence of player expressions. Eventually the technical fouls will be called purely at the ref's discretion (despite how the rule may read.)
I know what your thinking; when did VFTD drop paintball and switch to basketball? Have no fear, that ain't ever going to happen. It's just that the situation reminded me of a paintball counterpart and I thought it might help me make my point if I did it with an indirect example. Even though it's the 'Off Season' there's never a good time to talk about officiating or the referees it seems. (This is where your intrepid blogger--that would be me--throws caution to the wind and carries on regardless.)
Despite the league's intentions and efforts in recent seasons to standardize top to bottom there remain a few idiosyncrasies in the pro division when it comes to rules. The one I have in mind is the no talking, no gesturing rule. (Has a light gone on yet?) There have been rules against communicating after you're eliminated forever. That's not what I'm talking about--an neither is the rule in question. The rule addresses what was once a grey area. Sure, you can't communicate anything about the ongoing game after you're eliminated (and there's even an exception to that) but that never really considered things like questioning the call, expressions of frustrations or cursing under your breath as you walk off the field, etc. The league decided there was too much player expression going on after elimination so they made it an infraction punishable as a minor. Since the real purpose was to minimize the incidence of player outbursts enforcement was near universal initially and has since trickled down to referee's discretion.
Discretion sounds neutral. Even reasoned. Thoughtful perhaps. But it has synonyms, at least in a sports context. What do you call referee's discretion when the penalty is called one time in three infractions? Or twice as often against one team as another? Let's say you are a member of team A. If only members of your team are penalized for violating the no talking, no gesturing rule despite obvious infractions from the other team is that purely the referee's discretion? Or that some players don't get called for the same violations that others do? Are you likely to describe those calls as something other than discretion? Favoritism? Bias?
Part of the problem is the point of the rule was intended to control player behavior--not call every infraction despite how the rule reads--but when the officials don't call every infraction they are using discretion which may or may not be honestly intended but cannot be other than bias or favoritism in action. See how that works? (Or doesn't?)