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Grip on Sports: The modern equivalent of the gathering around the burning stake just may be college basketball officials and the internet

After being called for a technical foul, Northwestern Head coach jesters that Gonzaga forward Zach Collins’ put his hand through the net and rim and should have be called for goaltending. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
After being called for a technical foul, Northwestern Head coach jesters that Gonzaga forward Zach Collins’ put his hand through the net and rim and should have be called for goaltending. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • The question isn’t how but why. The subject? Missed calls in the NCAA tournament and the officials who are making – or not making – them. The impetus is the Gonzaga game and Zach Collins’ uncalled goaltend, but there were more Saturday. A lot more. Read on.

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• The internet is still working today, which is sort of shocking. Between Wisconsin’s upset of top-seeded Villanova, the Zags’ “undeserved” win over plucky Northwestern, and the Wildcats’ new mascot, a young boy with braces and expressive eyes, you would think it would be overloaded.

But the machine rumbles on, if only to give Northwestern alums a place to express their outrage over the lack of eyesight shown by three men: Chris Rasttater, Jeff Clark and Brent Hampton.

How could those three officials miss the “game-deciding” call? You know, Collins’ illegal block of Dererk Pardon’s dunk attempt with about 5 minutes left. If they get that right, the narrative goes, the Wildcats’ NCAA comeback continues and the Zags fade down the stretch, forever remembered as the No. 1 seed that blew an 18-point halftime lead in the second round.

Heck, the NCAA even admitted afterward a goaltend should have been called. How could the three officials miss it?

OK, we’ve all been here before, right? The how question is on every fan’s lips about 20 times a game – just ask Saint Mary’s folks this morning.

But I have a more pertinent question: Why do guys put themselves in this position? I mean, why officiate hoops these days?

I understand, at the college level, the money is darn good. Heck, I figured out one year not too long ago a veteran official had to make more than $200,000 in a single year, not including his travel expenses. Just officiating college basketball games. Of course, he worked more than a hundred of them.

Is the money enough? A local teacher, who used to officiate at the Pac-12 level but gave it up, once told me people don’t understand how hard officiating at that level is. No matter how much you train, how many games you do, it’s impossible to be perfect. But everyone wants perfection. And everyone is a critic.

Just ask Ron Groover this morning. You may not know Mr. Groover, but I’m sure Saint Mary’s fans do.

If you watched the Gaels’ 69-60 loss to Arizona last night, you are aware of Groover, a Georgia resident who usually officiates games in the southern part of our great nation.

It seemed as if every whistle Groover blew Saturday, especially in the second half, came at Saint Mary’s expense.

The most egregious occurred with about 5 minutes left. The Gaels’ Jock Landale picked up a foul because his face, to be precise, his nose, made contact with Dusan Ristic’s shoulder and arm. Well, not really. But that’s a major part of what happened.

With Arizona leading 58-55, Ristic pivoted into Landale’s face, in what looked to be an obvious offensive foul, possibly even a flagrant one. But Groover called Landale for the foul, despite the blood flowing from his nose.

How important was the call? Ristic completed a three-point play, giving UA what was an insurmountable six-point lead. If it had gone the other way, it would have been Ristic’s fourth foul, the Gaels would have had the ball down three and anything could happen. The game changes, right? At least as much as it did on Collins’ uncalled goaltend.

There is big difference, however. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Wilbon and about a thousand major media members don’t have a Saint Mary’s connection, like they do with Northwestern.

And, despite the blood, it was a less-clear judgment call. Just like the thousands of calls officials have to make every game, any of which could be the subject of a 30-for-30 documentary some day.

Which brings us back to the key word of the day: why. Why do it? Why officiate in such conditions, with the sword of public opinion hanging by a thread over you each second?

Like about a dozen of them yesterday, it’s a call most of us would never make.

•••

Gonzaga: Speaking of about a dozen, that’s how many links we have for you about the Zags’ win. And that’s just from the S-R. We’ll start with Jim Meehan’s coverage, from his game story to his examination of the importance of the two freshman bigs, Mark Few’s 500th win and the three keys to GU’s 79-73 victory. … John Blanchette has a column which touches on the goaltending no-call. … Jacob Thorpe’s coverage ranged from a missed Gonzaga opportunity to the NCAA’s apology to Northwestern’s future to Gonzaga’s next opponent, West Virginia. FYI, the Zags have won their last four games against a Bob Huggins-coached team. … Whitney Ogden wrote about the crowd, about the poor free-throw shooting and Jordan Mathews' big play. … I covered the TV coverage, with an emphasis on Ernie Johnson’s seemingly premature proclamation of a GU victory. … If you want photos, then Dan Pelle and Colin Mulvany have you covered. … The Gonzaga women also played yesterday, opening their NCAA with Oklahoma in Seattle. It didn’t go as well, right from the start. Jim Allen was there and has this game story and a sidebar on the tough first quarter. … Back to the men, the game was a popular one for the national media, including the Washington Post, Northwestern’s hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, and other outlets, including those in Salt Lake City. … Arizona’s 69-60 win over Saint Mary’s is covered from a lot of different angles, from the Gaels’ perspective and from the winner’s view. The Wildcats move on to face 11-seed Xavier – see the celebrity link above for some Xavier information – in the Sweet Sixteen next weekend.

WSU: The Cougar women enjoyed their first postseason basketball win so much, they decided to do it again. Washington State rallied in Wyoming, tied the WNIT game at the end of regulation and won in overtime, 68-67. … The baseball team lost at USC. … Three Pac-12 schools are in action in the NCAA today, with Oregon looking to end Rhode Island’s Cinderella story in the second round, USC facing a tough Baylor team and UCLA trying to keep Bryce Alford’s senior season going. … As Washington looks for a new coach, an old name has been added to the mix. … In football news, Colorado loses a lot to the NFL draft this season, but has high expectations for next anyway. … Arizona State put on pads for the first time this spring.

CCS: The Sasquatch women will meet Walla Walla today for the third time this season, this time with the NWAC title on the line.

Chiefs: Spokane fell to Tri-City 5-4 in a shootout Saturday night at the Arena. Josh Horton has the story.

Preps: Tom Clouse has a story today about Ferris High football coach Jim Sharkey’s suspension and the allegations behind it.

Mariners: The WBC has given Edwin Diaz a taste of what October might be like. … The M’s rallied for another late spring win.

Seahawks: No, Marshawn Lynch hasn’t asked for his release.

Sounders: Seattle opens the home schedule today against the New York Red Bulls – a family member just left to catch his flight to the game – and it will be accompanied by a celebration of last season’s accomplishments. To get their first win of this season, the Sounders will need their bench to step up. … Portland has started the season on a roll. … Real Salt Lake hasn’t.

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• One more day filled with hoop. College hoop on the TV and if the pounding in my head disappears, then some other hoop as well. Sundays are the best. Until later …

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