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Ball Don't Lie

Mark Cuban says the referees stink, again. So what?

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Mark Cuban in a famaliar pose (Getty Images)

After a frustrating Dallas Mavericks loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, one that saw Mavs coach Rick Carlisle ejected for booting a basketball in the stands after the refs enraged him with a no-call, Dallas owner Mark Cuban has predictably taken to the press with complaints about dodgy officiating. From ESPN Dallas:

"All I'm saying is some of these guys are bad. Let me rephrase that. Some of these guys are having really bad nights, and it's having an impact. The league's got to come out and say, 'OK, look, we understand they're going through some tough travel or whatever. It's just the way it is.' Otherwise, if that's not an impact, you have to wonder how some of these crews are still on the court."

Cuban is right. The referees have done a terrible job, for the most part, this season in officiating games. But what can be done to right this particular ship? We're having a hard time thinking of anything significant that can be done. The refs are going to stink this season, and we're going to have to find some way to deal with it.

Two major factors have created this uneasy product. For one, scores of veteran referees retired before the 2011-12 season even started, creating an influx of younger referees brought up from the college or minor-league ranks. Secondly, the sheer amount of games that the NBA has greedily mashed together (66 will be placed this year in a space that usually seats about 50) is forcing the referees to officiate even more games than the players are playing. This is a long work week, with insane amounts of travel and, as the cliché goes, every game is a road game for the referees.

Cuban wants greater accountability and more transparent data on which refs are doing what, but what will this actually change? So we'll remember their names easier, go into games with more of a bias against Big Meanie No. 45 That Always Goes Against Dallas, and that ref (because he's human) will then, in turn, look to overreach in response to the known "bias" and attempt to even calls out artificially?

As we've pleaded with people to understand for years, this is an impossible game to call at this level, and the sheer amount of rules rung up by-the-book and unofficial ways (with make-up calls and the like) of calling games provide nothing but a frustrating back-and-forth that is inconsistent and makes for some uneven games. Taking away the hand-check some eight years ago resulted in a better NBA product, but it also means players are dashing to the rim faster than ever, and refs can only see so much in the chaos. Toss in coaches complaining that referees are either calling fouls out of their particular zone, or not delving into a different zone to blow the whistle, and the result is one ugly mess.

The Mavs owner is on point for calling these things out, but what's the next step? Cuban has been hoarding his own referee data for over a decade now. The league surely knows about it and keeps its own brand of ref data, but what will any sort of publishing or re-jigging solve? Wednesday night, Mark went on:

"I mean, it's just ridiculous," Cuban said. "Something needs to be done; someone needs to stand up and say something. So here I is."

OK, there you are. Something needs to be done. Now what?

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