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ACC and Big East establish college basketball officiating alliance

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NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Look here, it’s a victory for sanity in college basketball: the ACC and Big East are leading a new officiating alliance that also includes the A-10 and CAA, which will allow all four leagues to collaborate on teaching methods, scheduling, and evaluations—among other things.

John Swofford on the agreement:

The alliance will provide greater efficiencies for game assignments for recruitment and for retention. It should increase the officials assignment pool for all of our conferences. It will take advantage of geographic scheduling efficiencies for the officials, which is very important. It will stabilize a joint staff under collaborative management and oversight. It will provide enhanced training, education, and evaluation opportunities, and it will enhance technology capabilities to improve our officiating data and staff feedback.

Big East commish Val Ackerman added that he hopes the increase in collaboration on scheduling “will lead to a reduction, in particular, in late season wear and tear on our referees.” That topic comes up all the time, and there’s no clear solution to the problem, because college officials are not employees of the NCAA or any league—they are independent contractors. More games worked means more income.

There are no restrictions on how many games they can work in a season, and some of the top guys work a TON of games. Here’s an example from Big 12 official John Higgins’, as explained by Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis:

For example, during a particularly brutal stretch in early January, Higgins worked a game at Stanford that tipped off at 6 p.m. local time. Later that night, he flew on a redeye to Minneapolis and landed at 4 a.m. He drove to his hotel, slept a few hours, worked a game between Minnesota and Michigan State, and then drove back to the airport to catch a 5 p.m. flight to Phoenix. The next day, he worked the Arizona State-Arizona game, during which he ejected Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley. The following night, Higgins was in Allen Fieldhouse for Kansas-Oklahoma. If you're keeping score, that's 4,800 miles traveled over three days.

That’s not healthy and I don’t think it’s good for the sport, either. (Though Higgins would disagree.)

Guys like Higgins can work a comfortable living into a few months—he gets paid two or three grand per game, and he’s averaged more than 90 games per season over the last half decade. The incentive to work a lot of games is obvious, and this agreement between the ACC and Big East won’t alter that until the nature of college refs’ employment is changed dramatically.

But in theory, at least, a collaborative effort from four leagues in roughly the same geographic footprint should alleviate some travel strains, which can only be good for the quality of officiating. But since there are no restrictions on where or how often refs can work, this collaborative effort can only go so far, at least in this respect. Once a ref gets his ACC or Big East assignments, for instance, he can go officiate in whatever leagues he wants in order to fill in dates on his schedule. The top officials in college hoops are going to continue setting their own pace.

This alliance is a step in the right direction, it just doesn’t—and can’t—address the fundamental problem. It’ll help some, though, and it’ll be good for everybody if, as intended, the partnership creates a larger pool of officials. And not only that, but a pool of officials that receives a more coherent, uniform approach to calling games.