At times, basketball fans have called them the “Three Stooges” or “Three Blind Mice” – those being near the top of a list of derogatory terms.
Whatever you call them, three-man basketball officiating crews are necessary in high school.
Idaho remains one of the few states across the nation to use just two referees. Just how much longer that will happen depends on who you listen to and what you believe.
Inland Empire League coaches agreed to go to three-man crews in 2006 with the hope the experiment would be something the state high school association would deem necessary.
The IEL coaches told the District I Board of Control in May that it will cease using three-man crews in the 2017-18 season. They say that using three-man crews and then adjusting back to two for the postseason puts them at a disadvantage.
“I would prefer three-man, but when you go to state the game is called significantly different,” Post Falls boys coach Mike McLean said. “It’s a much more physical game. We’re putting ourselves at a disadvantage if we play with three-man crews during the regular season.”
What two-man crews miss the most is the off-the-ball activity. Let’s dispose of a bad myth here. Having three sets of eyes on a game doesn’t mean there will be more fouls called. What happens is there are fewer bad calls or missed calls.
There have been hints the past decade that the state association would mandate the use of three-man crews, but nothing has materialized.
“I don’t think we’re any closer now than we were back (in 2006),” Lake City boys coach and athletic director Jim Winger said. “In fact, I think we’re farther away. How much longer can we be the test dummy? I don’t see it happening and all we’re doing is a disservice to ourselves.”
When District I basketball commissioner and assignor John Posnick learned of the coaches’ decision, he polled his top 25 referees.
“Twenty-four of them said they won’t do two-man for IEL games,” said Posnick, noting he’s among the top 25 who doesn’t want to do two-man games.
Posnick, 62, has officiated for 32 years and been the commissioner since 2005. Three-man refereeing has extended his career because it takes less of a toll on his body.
He talked the IEL coaches into trying three-man based on the possibility the state would deem it necessary at some point.
Posnick hopes the coaches change their mind.
Idaho High School Activities Association executive director Ty Jones wants to see the state go to three-man crews. It was talked about at the June board meeting.
“I think it makes the game safer and it cleans things up,” Jones said. “I think within two to three years it’ll be a reality. It’s time for it.”
Jones is mindful that there’s an additional cost by adding a third referee. For a school that has boys and girls teams with 10 home games for each, it would be close to another $1,200 a season.
District I officials have given IEL a discount. They charge for 2 1/2 officials. Varsity officials will make $61 per game next season. That works out to $152.50 for a game.
Cost has nothing to do with going back to two officials, Winger said.
“We’ve done more than our part to push this and try to get it done for the entire state,” Winger said. “I’m real proud of our efforts and the time we spent on it.”
Jones said he plans to send a survey to athletic directors, seeking their input on moving to three officials.
“The positives outweigh the negatives for three-man mechanics,” Jones said. “We just have to figure out a way to get it implemented.”
So a boycott of sorts is on the horizon for IEL games.
“None of us want a strike,” Posnick said. “But right now most of my tops guys don’t plan on doing their games. They’re independent contractors. They don’t have to work any of their games. We just want to work with them (the coaches).”
Posnick said he’s not sure he’d continue as commissioner if something couldn’t be worked out.
“If it’s a mess, I don’t want to stick around,” Posnick said.
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