Carroll: We need to talk about the Big Ten referees


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

A Big Ten official talks to Chase Audige at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Audige has been issued two technical fouls this season.

Gabriela Carroll, Web Editor

On New Year’s Eve, I settled in to end 2020 by watching college basketball.

It did not, as you can probably gather, make for a peaceful or generative ending to a year that perhaps deserved none of that.

I watched the showdown between Maryland and Michigan in which the referees called not one, not two, not three, but four technical fouls.

In the first half.

The first two came after Michigan center Hunter Dickinson scored and then stared down the Maryland bench, with each bench inexplicably receiving a tech. Dickinson dunked and stared down the bench again, and got hit with a tech that time. On the final tech of the half, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was called for arguing with an official.

In researching for this column, I searched ‘Maryland Michigan technical foul,’ and was stunned to see the same issue was a factor in a completely different matchup between the two teams. On Jan. 19, the refs called three technical fouls, this time all in the second half.

I’ve written about the Big Ten officiating and the controversial technical fouls before, after a questionable technical was called against junior forward Pete Nance. Against Iowa on Dec. 29, Nance was issued a technical for saying “gimme that s—” on a rebound.

Sophomore guard Chase Audige received a technical foul against Ohio State on Jan. 13 for slapping the backboard after a dunk, and another against Wisconsin on Jan. 20 for saying words to a defender after hitting a corner three? Maybe? Video footage is unclear.

One of the NCAA’s criteria for technical fouls is baiting and taunting other players. But where is the line between that and trash talk? Trash talk is almost as central to the game as the basketball itself. The chirps and on-court rivalries are what make the sport what it is, especially once players get to the NBA.

There are no real guidelines for what constitutes acceptable trash talk and what doesn’t. This is college basketball. The players aren’t seven years old. Using a little R-rated language is not going to hurt anyone.

At the press conference after the Dec. 29 game against the Hawkeyes, a reporter asked coach Chris Collins if he thought the empty gyms meant that referees could hear trash talk more clearly, and were thus calling it more often.

“With not many people in the arena,” Collins said, “You’ve just got to be really careful about the things you say, because the referees are going to catch everything that they might normally not catch if it’s a really loud, packed house.”

Maybe I’m just a fan of petty drama, but the technicals this season have been too much. Technical fouls, especially for unsportsmanlike conduct, are intended to keep the game from getting out of control. But trash talk happens in every game, and most games don’t end in massive brawls between players.

Referees this season are a bit too trigger-happy with the whistles, and it makes the game worse. When players like Audige make huge threes, they usually can play off the energy of the crowd. Now, with no fans, their energy is held to the floor.

Stopping play with a technical because a guy started chirping after a big play ruins the flow of the game. Big Ten referees, these questionable calls aren’t worth it.

Gabriela Carroll is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @gablcarroll