Referees Go Play God in Some Other Sport!

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
11/15/05

Aren't you tired of some referees playing god on the pool deck? I know I am. Maybe you are not certain of what I mean when I say that some referees are playing god during a water polo game. Let me explain what I mean by giving several examples, and you don't even have to go to church to understand these examples.

Talk First About the Bad Guys

Example 1: One of the referees calls a brutality foul and rolls a player, and the other referee does not agree with the call. This referee then calls a questionable brutality foul for a player on the other team to make the sides more even. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

It is not the job of one referee to either "make teams more even" or to give "make up calls". It is not only the referee's job to call what he or she sees but also to make certain he or she tries to call things they see the same the entire game. "Making teams even" or giving "make up calls" is a never ending job and it does way more harm than good to the game of water polo.

Example 2: A referee dislikes a player on a team or dislikes the way a particular player plays the game. This referee calls a thousand ticky tack fouls on the player or this referee turns everything this player does into a turnover or this referee makes a borderline exclusion foul into an exclusion foul every time he can against this player. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

As hard as it may be, a referee has to leave his or her prejudices for a player locked in the referee's dressing room locker until the game is over. This is what professionalism is all about and this is good advice not only for a referee but it is also good advice for a player or a coach who is biased toward a particular referee. Many times what is good for the gander is good for the goose and vice a versa.

Example 3: A referee makes a value judgment before the game that one team is better than the other and this referee calls exclusions and penalty shots according to this belief rather than according to what is truly happening in the game. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

I thought you were to make value judgments after all the facts have been gathered and not before . Prophesizing and fortune telling glass balls should  be for mystics not referees. Referees should not try to predict anything in a water polo game, but they should watch it unfold in real time similar to video games on the computer. If you wish to be a prognosticator get yourself a forked stick and find some water - water that has not been made murky with "What ifs".

Example 4: A referee gives 80 to 90 percent of the 50 - 50 calls to one team. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

Why does this referee think they are called 50 - 50 calls? If one team receives from 60 to 65 percent of these calls then I believe the referee is being reasonable but more than that is questionable. In the early days, every time my women's team played a California team with a California referee in California, I felt as if our team started the game all ready three points down. The day I concluded our team was accepted by the California refereeing Promised Land is when Felix gave us about 65% of the 50 - 50 calls in the 3rd place game at the Collegiate Nationals playing UC Santa Barbara in UC Santa Barbara's pool.

Example 5: One of the referees gives a coach a red card, and the other referee does not agree with the call. This referee then gives the coach on the other team a red card to make the sides more even. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

See explanation concerning Example 1.

Example 6:  A referee reverses a disrespect call during a game or a brutality call after the game has concluded without a formal protest. This referee has to realize that there is no place in the game of water polo for either disrespect of a referee or player brutality. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

There used to be a rule in the USWP and NCAA Rules book that a referee may reverse a call if the ball has not been placed back into play, but if the ball has been put into play then the referee's action can only be addressed by a formal protest after the game has concluded.

Example 7: A referee who is refereeing two teams of the same ability gives an inordinate number of exclusion fouls to one of the teams. Or if a referee awards many more exclusion fouls to one team allowing this team an insurmountable command of the game going into the fourth quarter, then the referee begins to give the other team bogus exclusion fouls so that the score sheet will not leave a paper trail of his or her misdeeds. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

Give me a break, would you? Because I can see one team with 14 to 3 exclusions if the team with 14 is much better than the other team or if that team has a history of causing a large number of kick outs in their games. A large difference in exclusion fouls between comparable teams is harder to swallow than the referee that swallows his or her whistle in the last quarter of a game which brings me to the next example.

Example 8: A referee that calls a consistent game for three quarters and then in the fourth quarter swallows his or her whistle. This person is not refereeing but rather this person is playing god.

The referee that does this many times gives the explanation that he or she was letting the players decide the game. Why didn't this referee let the players decide the game by swallowing his or her whistle in the first three quarters as well? Player actions that warranted exclusion fouls and penalty shots in the first three quarters should demand them in the fourth and sometimes critical quarter. Games refereed similar to this belong in the Hall of Shame, and they should be recorded in the book of the most inconsistent games ever refereed.

Talk Last About the Good Guys

Now for my major disclaimer: The number of referees that try to play god are less than 1% of all referees. The vast majority of referees do their level best to referee a  fair, honest, and consistent game of water polo. Everyone knows that most referees are over worked and under paid for what they do for the water polo conferences in this country. They are the unsung heroes and their importance to water polo is many times overlooked by the rest of the water polo community.

Coaches and players some time forget that referees make as many sacrifices as they do. A few referees do fairly well monetarily but the majority of  referees don't make enough money to cover expenses. They don't make near enough money to take all the abuse they receive from coaches and players. That's for doggone sure! How would you like to have a weekend job that you know will please some of the people some of the time and all the people none of the time. A job in which you know even before it is finished that almost half of the people you have serviced will not only be disappointed but may be down right hostile to your performance. It takes a special or dedicated person to do this job well.

To my shame I have many times verbally abused referees in my coaching water polo career, and today I assure you I am not the least bit proud of what I have done.  Let me take this time to formally apologize to all those referees that  I yelled at, and especially to those I yelled something similar to following horrendous statements: "God knew that wasn't a four meter (after a missed penalty shot)!" and  "You are a debit to your gender ( to one the first CWPA female referees after what I thought was a bad call)" and "Here use my towel to clean your glasses (after a four meter penalty shot was called)" and  "After what you did to me in this game I hope I don't get aids! (after a second round game at NCAA's): and  finally, the worst of the worst, "You are a cheater just like many of  the other international referees.! (during an Eastern Championship)" Guys' thank you for putting up with my baloney and for doing such a difficult job in spite of repeated negative remarks by me and many other coaches.

Many of the referees I know well are ex-players and/or ex-coaches, and they tell me they referee because they enjoyed participating in the sport of water polo so much that they wanted  to pay back for all the wonderful times and superb memories the sport generated for them. Thus, some people referee because they want to pay back the sport they love; some people referee because they truly enjoy it; and some people referee because they enjoy the power. Beware, if you are one of those who are into refereeing for the power trip because, I promise you, sooner or later you will be auditioning for a chance to play god.

Finally, let me say that I cannot think of a better way in which an ex-player can pay back the sport he or she so dearly loves than for him or her to become a referee for a year. If every graduating senior who is going to graduate school or who is  moving to a job that is located in a water polo hotbed would referee for one year then there would never again be a shortage of referees in any league. Who knows? You and refereeing may be the start of a beautiful friendship, and a friendship that might aspire you to become a top national or international referee (maybe Humphrey Bogart or Claude Rains knows). The sport of water polo has to have many more young people commit to helping our sport both grow and prosper, and refereeing for at least a year will help do that. And then those power hungry referees, which we thought we needed, can take their god act to some other sport!

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com