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Shaw Picks the Best Referees for the Postseason

By Mark Janssen
   
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It's that time of the year when the best of the best emerge to play on another day, and, the same is true for the men in black and white stripes who officiate the game.

Gripe all you want, throw a shoe at the TV screen when you don't like a call, but what you have been seeing in Kansas City this week at the Big 12 Championship have proven themselves to be the best officials in this league for this 2010-11 basketball season.

"I don't care how many Big 12 Tournaments an official has been to, or if he's been to eight NCAA Tournaments in a row, it's all about what kind of job he did this year," said Curtis Shaw, the league's first-year Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officials.

The grading process starts with a league observer who attends every game and makes comments on debatable calls that are sent to Shaw.

"Times of plays are noted and I have two guys that review films, or I may do it," said Shaw, who has worked six NCAA Final Fours, which includes the 2009 title game prior to his on-court retirement. "Then, the coaches also rate the officials. By that I don't mean 1 through 5, but I just want them to tell me what they did right, tell me what they did wrong, and I'll decide whether they were in position to handle the game happenings and if they know the rules."

Shaw added, "Our coaches are absolutely amazing. They may not agree in the heat of battle, but they do have respect for the officials. I told them before the year started that I was going to bring in younger kids so we had a bigger pool to work with, and they had to trust me. I told them that they wouldn't be perfect, but to just give them a chance to referee. When they are getting 19 out of 20 plays right, that's the guy we need in the league. Let's give them a chance."

Shaw's system does not allow an official to work a game involving his alma mater, or, if he has a family member at the school.

In making assignments, he also makes every attempt that the same official does not work a game for a particular school more than five times in a year, and never see the same team within a 10-day period.

Shaw works with a pool of 53 officials who come from 16 states ranging from the southeastern part of the USA to Idaho. During the course of the year, the majority of these officials have also worked in Conference USA, the Ohio Valley and the Southland Conference.

"This system works favorably for the Big 12 in that the Ohio Valley and Southland Conference are entry-level leagues for younger referees," said Shaw, who himself officiated 1,278 games from 1996-97 through his retirement in 2009-10. "We take new officials and develop them through the summer and in Division II type games, and then into these entry leagues.

"That's quality basketball, with great coaches and great fans, but not to the same intensity and television scrutiny as you find in the Big 12," said Shaw. "It's a chance to develop young guys so when they get in an environment like Bramlage Coliseum it's not a great shock."

Shaw says officials climb their way into Division I basketball "... by word of mouth and their relationships made in a geographical footprint."

Once found, invitations are sent for summer training sessions where they work games with on-court supervisors with teaching done during timeouts, plus film work after the game. Additional grading can be done through Nike Elite events where the best 16- to 17-year olds are on the floor "... and every team has a seven-footer and every team has a Top 20 guard."

While Shaw says the athletes are definitely better today in terms of speed, strength and jumping ability, he says that doesn't necessarily make the game more difficult to officiate.

Instead, he says, "The players today don't have the fundamentals they did 20 years ago. The game is more difficult because you see a great athletic play, but there are no fundamentals to it. Some of the things you see are legal, and others illegal, but the plays are awkward, which makes refereeing harder. As an official, you ask, 'Was that athletic and ugly, or was it lack of fundamentals."

What has also changed in the last two decades is the pay scale for officials to the degree that some can make a living doing three and four games a week. But Shaw points out, "We do not have injury insurance, no health plan and no retirement."

Today's Big 12 official starts at roughly $1,600 per game to the more experienced official receiving $2,500 per game. Shaw says he does his best to position an official to work several games out of one city during the course of a four- or five-day period.

"They pay all their expenses," adds Shaw, who worked over 100 games in 20 different states in both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. "The top guys in the country averaging four or five games a week can make good money, but their earning period is very short in terms of months, and years."


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