Abe Lemons dreams of a perfect world.
Lemons is the basketball coach at the University of Texas.
He knows how rough this imperfect world is on coaches.
So in his better world by far, all coaches would be given a career allotment of five field goals to use whenever they needed them. As golfers protect their manhood with an occasional mulligan, coaches could pull out these gift buckets in life-and-death situations
"Let's say Ray Meyer coached for 30years without ever using one of his five freebies," Abe says.
"That means that when he lost in the NCAA by seven points last year, he could have invoked four field goals and went on to the championship game."
Upon signing a contract to work in Lemons' perfect world, a coach would be given a card to carry with him to allgames.
The card would be proof of the coach's right to call three technical fouls against the referees. Each time the coach used this heavenly privilege, the offending referee would punch the coach's card and the coach would have one less technical to use in his lifetime.
"And the referees would say the same thing we do now when they call one on us coaches: 'What the gosh-darn didI do?'" Lemons said.
We all have our visions of perfection.
Some of us long for a world in which it is possible to take a shower without another thousand hairs falling out of our heads.
I would like it very much if the police could arrest everyone who complained about basketball referees.
A first-time offender would be sentenced to five months watching noon-hour ball at the YMCA.
If arrested a second time, the deadbeat would be given a season ticket to Detroit Piston games.
A three-time loser would be put to five years hard labor referring girls high school games.
The Supreme Court might find these cruel and unusual punishments; and several other problems might delay the arrival of my perfect world, one being the inevitable necessity to hire thousands of additional cops to chase down basketball fans who blame the referees for the failings of their heroes.
Of all games, college basketball is the most fun because the players not only bring considerable skill to the arena but also enthusiasm that is palpable. To see bold and daring coaches create teams of wonder and to see those teams work minor miracles every 30 seconds or so is to be moved to a constant state of smile.
The other day, Duke beat Kentucky, 55-54. A Kentucky fan didn't like the early goings-on, when Duke was building a 10-point lead, and finally a referee's decision gave the angry fan reason to throw his baseball cap onto the court.
Gene Banks saw the cap with the"K" on it. The Duke forward picked it up, smiled a little and walked across the court to his team's bench where he put the cap on a student manager.
It was a nice thing to do. It was done with a smile, it was done in front of 23,000 Kentucky fans, it was done ina way that said, "This game is supposed to be fun, folks, and I'm going to enjoy it no matter what you throw at the refs."
Better we wait for the invention of ashower that makes hair grow than to wait for basketball fans to quit complaining about referees. Lemons knows he'll never get even with the bandits in the striped shirts. And the need for fans to blame somebody, to displace the blame for failing that would be theirs in the symbiotic relationship with their heros in short pants -- that need to blame the authorities isn't going to be talked away, even by so powerful a speaker as Bob Knight.
Knight is the Indiana University coach. "I don't think officiating has anything to do with the way the games turn out," he said the other day. "If game officials work this way or if they work that way, it's beyond my comprehension how that affects a game."
But what if a team is accustomed to playing a bounce-'em-around style that is condoned by some conferences and thatteam suddenly is in a game worked by officials from a league that calls foulsmuch closer?
"Then they shouldn't foul," Knight said. End of argument.
This is not to say, certainly, that Knight is a marvel of humankind during a game. The milk of sweetness that courses through the veins of us all runs very thin in Knight when he hears a basketball bouncing.
He believes in pointing out to officials their mistakes. Often his lectures are decorated with quotations from drill sergeants. As Al McGuire did before him, as Adolph Rupp and St. John Wooden did, Knight is looking for an edge during a game, looking to sway an official, to appeal to his conscience to somehow compensate Knight for that gawdawful call made earlier.
But when the game is over, Knight doesn't blame defeat on the striped-shirts. It is up to him and his players to be good enough to adapt to what's happening with the whistles.
If there are 1,000 judgment calls to be made in 40 minutes of play, it is reasonable to assume they are going to come out pretty even.
The game is so fast with such large players contesting every move that is impossible to make every judgment call perfectly. And there are more judgment calls in basketball than in anyother game. One can only hope the referees are honest -- and when was there ever a scandal involving a referee? -- and are not intimidated by crowds that throw baseball caps onto the court.
Two things might help us move toward the perfect world of striped-shirts.
It would be good if the referees simply made their calls and informed the official scorer of those calls. The referees do not need to sprint to a fallen player's side, the whistle blaring, and stand over the poor fellow, pointing an accusing finger at him. Such theatrics only inflame the spectators. For models of decorum and good sense, basketball referees should be sent to a National Football Leaguegame. NFL officials know that the .players, not the officials, are the show.
Another thing: The coaches should sit down and shut up. During this current NCAA national championship tournament, the so called bench-conduct rule is supposed to be enforced strictly. If a coach argues with an official a technical foul is to be called immediately. Several coachs, Knight among them, have been hit with technicals that during the regular season might not have been called.