MORGANTOWN — Let’s get right to the point:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
If the U.S. Constitution says Congress can’t abridge freedom of speech, certainly the Big 12 can’t.
End of discussion.
Except they do. All leagues do, and it’s wrong. The freedom of speech is guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and the last time he appeared in public, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby was not dressed in the robe of a Supreme Court justice.
On Tuesday, the conference announced that Bob Huggins was being fined $10,000, apparently for criticizing the officials who worked West Virginia’s loss at Kansas on his post-game radio show Saturday, referring to them as “three blind mice.”
Bowlsby, in a Big 12 release, called it a third violation of the league’s “sportsmanship clause” without specifying the other two.
And what did he say that was worth $10,000?
He referred to the officiating crew as “three blind mice.”
C’mon, Bob Bowlsby, are you kidding?
He didn’t go off on a fiery tirade about one-sided officiating, did not question their competence, did not talk of them as “homers, did not question their integrity.”
What did he do then?
He said the officials were inconsistent and gave a calm, rational explanation of why they were without demeaning them in any way.
Here is what he said:
“I can’t control what the three blind mice out there do,” Huggins said on the radio show. “We’d love consistency. I know it’s a hard job but they do get paid pretty handsomely for it. Just be consistent. What’s a foul here is a foul there.”
That alone may sound critical, but the rest of his soliloquy, said in the post-game media conference, explained the reason why there are inconsistencies in the officiating and, if anything, made more sense than many of the calls and non-calls that transpired during that game and so many others.
Here, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story:
“I’m not going to get into trouble for saying this, because this is not degrading,” Huggins said. “But you’ve got three guys out there who all see the game differently. We’ve got 10 coaches in the league, and they all see how to play the game of basketball differently.
“So you get a call on one end from a guy who thinks he made the right call, and probably did. And then you don’t get that same call on the other end because there’s another guy down there who didn’t think that was a play that should be called. So then all the sudden you’re saying ‘Why are you calling it down there but not calling it down here?’
“But they’re not. That’s hard on officials. And we’re never going to have the same crew. I understand that. But I think that makes it hard on them. You’ve got fans booing you when they’re doing the replay thing because you either did or didn’t call something that the other guy did or passed on. And it happens awfully fast.
“It’s a hard deal. If they didn’t get paid so damn much, I’d feel bad for them. But since I know what their paycheck is, I don’t feel a bit sorry for them.”
The problem here is not with what Huggins said or that he said but it is with the training given the officials and the rules themselves.
Fouls are judgment calls so the only way you can get consistency is through the training of the officials and constantly studying the games they play and noting the inconsistencies to them.
Considering the entirety of Huggins’ post-game comments, it seems Huggins could have a strong case to challenge the fine.
One suspects if the league authorities study the Kansas film, and for good measure with the Oklahoma State film, which are the two league games WVU has played, especially focusing on Derek Culver’s and Oscar Tshiebwe’s treatment in the low post, they may understand that Huggins has a legitimate complaint.
Perhaps his radio show was not the right vehicle to air those complaints. However, one suspects it is the last venue left for those in-game conversations that Huggins has with the officials that center upon the complaints he has and, quite apparently, the complaints fall upon not blind eyes but on deaf ears.
And just as certainly, as a member of the NCAA rules committee, he has expressed similar concerns.
Yet nothing changes.
The league’s action is an injustice but, if the league insists upon imposing the fine, at least put it to better use than just depositing it in the league’s treasury. Giving it to the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Fund would be a nice gesture.
Perhaps even the league could match it.
— Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel