Well, Since Everybody Else is Talking About It

November 22, 2010 at 1:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Lincolnite isn’t exactly a sports-oriented blog, but we do venture into sports from time to time. Today seems like as good a time as any since the Huskers are such a hot topic right now. There are two things that really get Husker fans’ chatter going: great success and abject failure. The latter applies to Saturday’s performance.

That’s not all we’ve got, of course. There’s also oodles of controversy. Is the Big XII fixing our games? Is Taylor Martinez going to quit the team? Is Bo Pelini going to have an aneurysm?

On Saturday night I tweeted:

There’s intense, and then there’s clownish. All Bo is missing right now is a squeaky red nose.

I’m pleased to see that the Big Dogs at UNL agree with me that Pelini was way out of line. There’s no other way to say it: he looked like an idiot at times. There are ways to use anger to send a message or to get what you want; Bo’s behavior on the sideline on Saturday didn’t reflect that type of anger. Rather, his anger was irrational, over-the-top, and just plain counter-productive.

“But what about those terrible referees?!”, you may ask. Let’s talk about that. I have officiated sports—but not football—for over half my lifetime. I have a good feel for how and why officials make decisions. I won’t say the game wasn’t fixed but I very strongly doubt it was. It’s just not likely. Besides, I didn’t see many questionable calls on Saturday. (I wasn’t specifically looking for questionable non-calls that could have gone against A&M, but none stood out to me.) Most of the referees’ decisions were, in my opinion, perfectly legitimate given the information available to them. (Here’s an example of a situation where a referee likely would have made a different decision had he had different information available to him.)

There was a lone terrible call in the game that really stands out. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous “roughing the passer” penalty. That was a really, really, really bad call akin to an umpire striking out a batter on a pitch that hit the dirt five feet in front of the plate. But it wasn’t a “game fixing” call. Instead it felt very much like a retaliation penalty called by a referee (or crew) that was trying to show who was the boss. It was, in other words, a penalty against Bo.

It happens regularly in sports. Umpires take away the corner; floor officials suddenly go blind to double hits; referees allow harder slide tackles by one team than the other. Sometimes it’s a punishment against a player or coach. Sometimes it’s a taunt by the referee to see if the person will blow up enough that he can be kicked out of the game. Sometimes it’s a conscious act, but sometimes—and this is important—it’s an unconscious response to frustration or anger through which the official feels he needs to show he’s still in control. That is, I can’t say that the referee who threw the flag did it as a deliberate “up yours” action. He may have simply been keen to show he was still willing to make the tough call despite the wrath he would face.

Regardless of the referee’s motivation, the fact is Bo’s behavior was so ridiculous it backfired on him and his team. It will continue to do so. There are generally three types of coaches: 1) the type who never complain even when they should; 2) the type who complain constantly whether they have good reason or not; and 3) the type who wisely pick their battles. The third type is my favorite. When they’re red in the face you know that either their dog died and they’re having a really bad day, or the referee very likely screwed up. As a referee, that type of coach tends to be reasonable and great to work with.

Bo, unsurprisingly, is the second type. Coaches who anger at anything and everything are mostly ignored. Since they complain about everything there’s no reason to treat their proper rants any differently than their improper ones. The effect is that they do nothing positive for their team. At best the referee blocks them out; at worst the referee actively seeks to “punish” them. Even the gray zone in the middle isn’t good for the coach or the team. If there is a bad referee on the game ... yikes. Bad referees and type two coaches do not mix.

Long story short, I don’t buy the conspiracy theory that the Huskers lost this game because of the referees. The refs’ actions—whether deliberate “game fixing” decisions or not—certainly didn’t help the team, but the loss was more about an impotent offense than a Husker-hating batch of referees. And again, regardless of what the referees were up to Pelini did far more damage than good. He needs to find ways to take his passion in positive directions because dang, that guy has a LOT of passion and he could do a lot of good things with it. I don’t want him to become a punchline like Bobby Knight.

But that’s just my take. I’m curious about what you folks think.

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The Comments

CP November 22, 2010 at 4:51pm

I think you hit the nail on the head. This was exactly what was going through my neutral non-Husker mind while I watched the game. Bo’s behavior was hurting the team in the ways you described, but also by emphasising to the team (by modeling) that the locus of control for the game was external to the players. Bad move. “We’re victims here, folks” is not the message you want your team to recieve.

In discussions with Husker friends on Sunday I kept saying that I think they lost because they were unable to generate offense, not because any of the calls. While some of the calls were bad, most were obvious. Better blocking schemes and actually catching passes would have helped A LOT.

I was also not met with any warmth when I suggested that Colorado might be able to do the exact same thing to them on Friday.

Peter November 22, 2010 at 5:24pm

Another neutral (Mizzou grad) fan..

No wonder Perlman was embarrassed.  A ridiculous 3 hour tantrum.  Then chasing after the refs after the game was over, brother Carl allegedly going off on a ligit cameraman and breaking the camera. 

Perlman and Osbourne may talk to him, but when you act like a 6 year old at the age 42, you’re unlikely to change.

Wisco November 22, 2010 at 6:47pm

I couldn’t agree more with this post.
As a season ticket holder I see this behavior all around me but the coach needs to act better than the “Homer” fans in the stands.

As I was posting ESPN Sports Center was talking about Pelini’s behavior Saturday.

ryan November 22, 2010 at 9:04pm

In retrospect, it comes as no surprise that there have been quite a few penalties against Nebraska over the past couple of seasons. Pelini addressing his players on the sidelines is like a parent screaming at his unruly child in a crowded restaurant. It’s embarrassing and a touch frightening. That’s not to say that I am against coaches ripping into players…in practice or the locker room if they deserve it. But comport yourself and your team in a professional manner on gameday, and exemplify the same self-discipline that you have been building in your players all season long.

As far as the officating goes, there were a couple calls that could have gone either way and one truly bad call.  There was at least one flag was a “But he started it” penalty….the kind every youth sports coach warns about when he or she says it’s not the player that started it that is going to get penalized, it is the reaction that will end up being spotted and called.  That’s the nature of sports on all levels.  Fan reaction, however, has been way out of proportion, and it makes Nebraska supporters come across as whiny, sore losers.  That is disheartening because college football’s self-proclaimed greatest fans ought to know better.

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