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Kevin Wright: Referees have feelings, too

BY KEVIN WRIGHT: THE SIXTH MAN

Published February 21, 2006

A few weeks ago, I was casually watching SportsCenter when something on "BottomLine" caught my eye.

The tidbit said that the ACC suspended three officials for one game following a technical foul called in the Florida State-Duke contest.

I couldn't comprehend what I'd just seen. I've witnessed countless suspensions for drug use, team-rule violations, fighting, drunk driving and jumping into the stands to beat up fans (Ron Artest and Antonio Davis know exactly what I mean).

But referees?

Suspended?

For a bad call?

I never thought I would see the day when the zebras would lose pay for costly mistakes. But apparently John Clougherty, the ACC coordinator of men's basketball officials, deemed their call so bad it warranted a suspension.

Ever since the dawn of organized sports, one group has always been there to take the blame for a loss. Whether the anger comes from fans, players or coaches, those poor souls who choose to officiate sporting events for a living take it on the chin every day.

After all, it's easier for fans to accuse the referees of cheating or favoring the other team than chastising their favorite squad or player for a poor performance. Sports leagues even draw attention to their officials through enforced dress codes. Black and white striped shirts may not be the newest fashion trend, but they sure do stand out nicely on the basketball court and football field.

Now, I'll admit, I've never been the biggest supporter of referees. During my last year of varsity high school basketball, I probably agreed with about five calls officials made against me (My dad even dubbed me the next Bill Laimbeer for the way I whined about calls). But that doesn't mean those referees should have been suspended.

In that Florida State-Duke game, the officiating crew of Mike Eades, Ray Natili and Ed Corbett made the decision that Florida State's Alexander Johnson fouled the Blue Devils' Shelden Williams a little too hard.

And they really paid the price for it.

In an age when officiating is becoming more of a science and less of an art, the timeless "mistakes will be made" logic just doesn't cut it anymore. Questec governs MLB's strike zone. In the NFL, instant replay has introduced red as an alternative flag color to the traditional yellow. The NBA has replay to review shots taken at the buzzer.

Gone are the days when superstars like Michael Jordan can push off Bryon Russell in Game Six of the NBA Finals.

Gone are the days when a third-strike mechanic can alter the outcome of an American League Championship Series.

Gone are the days when Sun Belt officials can trot off the field before a bowl game has even been completed.

Instead, we've entered an era in which referees can be suspended for making incorrect judgment calls. In addition to the boos, death threats and general verbal abuse that those who blow the whistle absorb, officials can now enjoy losing their money, too.

It's not bad enough that NFL refs are afraid to stop a play in case it might need to be reviewed or that MLB umpires have a computer that grades how well they judge whether or not a 100-mile-per-hour fastball or 12-to-6 curveball crosses the plate in the strike zone.

Now, they can finally join the ranks of the athletes who abuse their privilege to play professional sports and receive honorary suspensions for their errors.

In the world of sports, two things are guaranteed: clich