Two more Mississippi high school referees are speaking out, confirming the claims of two other officials that the Mississippi High School Activities Association told them during last month’s state basketball tournament to protect certain star players.
Two referees who spoke out last week didn’t know the name of the person they say entered their halftime room and delivered a message that the three-man crew do a better job of making sure a certain player stayed on the floor and not foul out or get too hassled on defense.
Monday, two referees named MHSAA assistant director of athletics Robert Holloway and a man they identify as “Randy” as the two who told them to look out for certain players during the 2013 tournament.
“He came in the dressing room at halftime and said, ‘Did we figure out who the best players on the floor were?’ We all looked at each other. He said, ‘Well, I believe they got three fouls.’ He said we as officials need to try our best to keep the best players in the game, if at all possible,” the referee said.
The referee said the man said he understood if it was a hard foul and couldn’t be avoided.
A second referee in the same game confirmed the meeting and said the two men didn’t come right out and say to give the star special treatment, but the referee said it was implied.
“They asked the question, ‘Have y’all figured out who the best player is?’ We said yeah. He said, ‘Y’all need to make sure she doesn’t pick up a cheap foul to start the second half.’”
The referee said he and his crew should be able to not make contact calls that didn’t affect a shot or a pass or give an advantage to one team. However…
“The problem I have, I think good officials can manage the game,” he said. “But when they’re implying that basically we need to overlook calls, I’ve got a problem with that. Because what we’ve now done is we’ve gone from managing the game to manipulating the game.”
Holloway denied the implication.
“That’s never been the meaning of it,” Holloway said.
Holloway said he probably tells all the officials it’s OK to let east-west stuff go and only call things that affect a play, saying a foul could be called on every play. He said referees should go unnoticed in a game.
“I talk officiating all the time. If I’m at a ballgame, I’ll go in at halftime. We’ll talk about whether you missed that call or whether that was a great call or not, or I saw a couple things we should have gotten… I talk to them pregame, then at halftime.
“But to think that for one minute we would try to manipulate a game for somebody, to me, that’s absurd.”
Both referees, who wish to remain anonymous, have officiated at the high school, junior college, Division II and Division III levels.
The first referee said he didn’t interpret the message to mean not calling a foul on a star, but also said the message was clear.
“He did come in and say, ‘We need to try to keep these players …’ and I know he said it this year, too,” he said.
The second referee said his reaction to the halftime talk was a little bit of anger.
“I earned my way down there,” he said. “I think when we get there, they ought to let us officiate the game based on the fact we earned our way there just like the teams do. I don’t think it’s their job to question calls.
“I think there’s a big difference in managing the game and manipulating the game. I think we’re definitely bordering on the edge of manipulation.”