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Syracuse basketball: College hoops officials and our combined, slow death

The game of college basketball is being changed from the inside out. Officials are making it more of a finesse sport than ever before. And that’s bad for the players and for the fans.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

What if you had just a few minutes to live? If it was all coming to an end sooner than later and you knew it, would you spend that time doing what you loved or would you go out doing something you hated more than anything?

Weird way to start, I know.

Still, the reality is, I’m not a big fan of the old “It’s too bad (insert name) died, but at least they went out doing what they loved” adage. It’s something of a crutch of a sentence most of us have used at some point in time. I’m sure it’s always delivered with great intentions, but still not really accurate.

Hear me out here: if you loved to drink beers and watch football, would you really want to die at one of your apex-moments that you have during our short time on Earth? Hell no. If you love drinking and watching football, you want to keep on drinking and watching! The same goes for anyone who has a passion for anything. The last thing you want to do is miss those moments. Those are the good times. They’re the reason we live, for Pete’s sake.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Conversely, if you hate to go out and shovel your driveway, get your taxes done, or travel to the mall so your wife can drag you and your kids to store after store without ever actually making a purchase, then that’s the time to be put out of your misery. Wouldn’t you rather leave this existence than have to spend another minute at the DMV, or get the garbage ready to take out?

Isn’t that another common expression? “I’d rather die than…”?

The idea of passing on doing what you love is a big-ass fallacy to me.

It’s perfectly okay if you’ve comforted yourself or someone else with the ol’ “at least they died doing what they loved” phrase. I mean, trying to rationalize any of it is just about impossible. So if you find some solace in those eight words, then understand that I feel you.

To me, though, it’s a little tiring just accepting something because it’s been said so many times.

Here’s another, less morbid, more apropos example of what we accepted as phraseology that isn’t really true: We just want officials in sports to be “consistent.”

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

“Hey, ref, how about calling it both ways, huh?!” The Twitterarti freaks out about it on a nightly basis, from basketball to football; everyone seemingly always wants a fair game called. If an official is going to call “everything” in basketball, then that official better call everything against both teams all game long.

But what we all really want is for the officials to pipe the hell down.

Obviously, we can’t have Bloodsport out there on the hardwood or gridiron (on the diamond with baseball is probably not applicable due to strikes and balls). Isn’t a game just better, though, when teams can establish themselves, when we as fans aren’t worried about foul totals or penalties? “Just letting them play” is really better than officials calling foul after foul or penalty after penalty. It just is. That might not be the fairest way, or even the mostly politically correct way for a game to be played, but it’s likely to be the most entertaining.

Yet the biggest sports misnomer lies in the world of basketball. And it’s time we finally address the black-and-white-striped zebra in the room.

Long ago I heard that football is the game of contact. On every play, be it a lineman or a ball carrier, someone is going to feel the force of someone else. That’s all certainly true, but football is more of a collision sport than one of “contact.” Those players are (sadly) getting smashed on a play-to-play basis.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as dangerous as football. In fact, for a long time, hoops was a game viewed as being more finesse than physical. Which, of course, is bullshit. If you’ve ever ventured down to the paint and attempted to set up shop on the blocks, then you know your back has been tenderized with forearms. If you have ever attempted to go up for a rebound, then you’ve likely been whacked with a few elbows. Hell, even trying to D-up near the top of the key, you can run into a brick wall of a screen and be knocked into next week.

Basketball at just about every level isn’t for the weak or meek. For every jump shot, rebound and steal, there are just as many black eyes, sore kidney areas and fingernail-deep cuts. It’s a contact sport and that’s okay.

The problem here is that just about every official across the board in men’s college hoops doesn’t see it that way. Refs seem to think contact is somehow forbidden and that it’s their jobs to eradicate the epidemic sweeping our nation’s courts.

Take for example Paschal Chukwu, who gets whistled for a foul by just blinking his eyes. The Syracuse Orange big man was called for what I’d regard as a non-foul against Notre Dame late in the first half last Saturday. Chukwu jumped up, swatting at the ball while simultaneously hitting the Irish player with portions of his body. There was contact, but it was one basketball player defending against another. Of course, the official had to call a foul because either A) he saw one human touch another human, and/or B) he just assumed that Chukwu was going to hammer the Irish player and blew the play dead before even letting it play out.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgetown Art Pittman-USA TODAY Sports

All of which is a microcosm of the bigger, overarching problem. There are far more egregious calls being made on a nightly basis. Seriously, it’s been how many years and officials still don’t have a good understanding of what is a charge and what is a block in college hoops? It’s maddening because if college hoops is supposed to serve as a breeding ground for any future professional players, then refs are failing them.

Should someone like Chukwu make the same block attempt at the next level, you know what would have happened next? That play would have continued with someone scooping up the loose ball. In the NBA, more often than not, a foul is more than when contact happens. Rightfully so, too.

These bogus calls in college are hurting any potential progress players could make, especially the big men. We all wonder why the game of basketball has changed from being played in the paint to being played about 20 feet from the rim, well I question if a small part of it has to do with playing in the paint means you’re battling an opponent and the refs.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

And as fans of the game, when play is stopped every time someone on offense is touched by someone on defense, the entertainment value decreases. It’s one thing if your favorite team keeps jacking up stupid 30-footers, or if the other guys are just running your guys out of the gym. That’s tough to watch, but that stuff just happens. It’s something else entirely, however, when a jumper in the lane is met with a whistle because a defender tried to stop it. That’s when basketball becomes something worse, something unrecognizable.

It’s all a trend that is not going away. Sadly. I’d love to have the cure-all, but what’s that other tired expression? The toothpaste is out of the tube? That’s it. But hey, at least the refs are consistent about it all, so we have that going for us. Which is nice.

Personally, though, this killing of the game is going to be the death of me. And trust me, I’d rather be doing anything else than watching it... in this form, anyway.