The deal was as follows: $6.50 an hour, a healthy sweat and the opportunity to take flak from a diverse sampling of the University community.
In return, I would donate my nights throughout the course of five weeks. The job: Officiating intramural basketball.
Certain driving factors got me in the door. The talent scout in me was looking for the next Freddie Hunter. Hunter is part of IM lore, dating back to the early 1990s when he made such a name for himself in rec ball that he earned a walk-on spot on Steve Fisher”s squad. Just one year later, he was named captain of Fab Five Part I.
The Steve Welmer in me wanted to know if slapping someone with a “T” was as much of a thrill as it looked on television. And the Richard Simmons dimension prompted the idea that refereeing could be a weird way to log some windsprints.
While participation in flag football, fall”s principal sport, is overwhelming in number but relatively social in nature, basketball is quite the opposite. The teams that do play IM hoops are smaller in number, but they play to win.
They expect to win. When teams don”t, they come searching for a scapegoat. Usually there”s one with a black shirt conveniently stationed under the basket or out near the 3-point line.
The basic arguments boil down to these: Someone on the other team is always getting away with something. Anyone who drives to the basket out of control is still entitled to a blocking foul. An airball must be the result of some kind of contact.
Should a particular opponent be dominating, a player-specific whine is engaged. Defenders feel that since they can”t stop an opponent, certainly the referee can.
If a big man is proving to be too much to handle, then he”s been in the lane for eight seconds. Call it.
If a guard is having success penetrating, he must be pushing off. Or palming the ball. Or something anything. Call it.
It”s tough to argue with the players. Not necessarily because they”re right. Because nine out of 10 times, they don”t know the rules of basketball as well as they think they do.
A ball that hits a defender”s foot is not a kicked ball unless he tried to kick it. A player who drops a pass may or may not be able to dribble, depending if he tried to catch and dribble in the first place. A defender standing with his arms straight up will not be called for a foul, even if he is involved in contact.
Some referees shy away from the argumentative part of the job. They”d just as soon not deal with it.
I enjoy it. That”s what made for great stories these past five weeks, as I recounted to my roommate the charging call I made on the game”s crucial possession or the technical foul I dished out to the kind 250-pound fellow who told me to screw off.
Players have legitimate gripes on occasion. Certain referees call games tighter than others, which can lead to inconsistency. And like the Big Ten and any other league, some refs are better than others.
I”ve found the truly good players don”t need to spend time complaining. If someone bumps them on their way for a layup, causing them to miss, they”ll grab the rebound and score anyway.
There are a few of these caliber of players knocking around the IM leagues. I didn”t find any Freddie Hunters, as I had set out to do. A few Mike Gotfredsons, maybe.
I”m mourning the conclusion of the season, but it”s been a blast. I”ve revitalized myself with the exercise, stockpiled a few hundred bucks for Spring Break, and felt the swell of true power.
Can”t we go another five weeks?
Chris Duprey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.