Men's Basketball

Blowing the whistle on bad basketball

Curtis Shaw began officiating junior high basketball games when he was a student at Tennessee-Chattanooga.

The grandfather of one of his friends supervised high school sports in the state and suggested that this might be a way for the guys to pocket a little walkin' around money for a few afternoons' work a week.

"At one point I was making about $300 a week," Shaw remembered. "I was the richest kid on campus. Girls loved me."

Coincidentally, Shaw really liked the gig as well.

"Got into it and loved it," he said.

Shaw quit his eventual day job as projects supervisor for a major marine construction business and became a full-time official in 1995. Last summer, he succeeded Dale Kelley as Big 12 coordinator of men's officials, in which he does more than just assign crews to work games.

Shaw is part of a new movement in college basketball officiating to change the game and have it officiated the way the rules are written.

"I think our game was starting to slip away from us," he said during a conversation a couple of days ago. "The style of play, some of the things we were allowing to go on, some of the actions of some coaches really started to bring a bad light on our game."

I remember Shaw as a quick whistle.

"I was known not to tolerate much," he said with laugh. "I fully believe in enforcing the rules as written.

"And it's kind of interesting that now that's what the NCAA has gone back into. The single point of emphasis this year is to enforce the rules as written and apply the sportsmanship rules to the maximum.

"I like to say I was ahead of my time."

Shaw is in step with the vision of uniformity and accountability started by John Adams when he took over as NCAA officials coordinator after the 2007 season.

Shaw also has instituted a structured training program as part of a consortium of conferences that includes C-USA, Southland and Ohio Valley.

He's also looking for young officials to integrate into the consortium, and he wants to provide structure for advancement.

"My mission is to have a staff that is taught properly, trained properly and given the tools they need to be successful," Shaw said. "We then hold them accountable through film work, our observations and rewarding guys who do it the right way.

"We've always had the stigma that referees are out here, they show up and get a check, and go home. There's no accountability, no training. The coach can lose his job, the fans are irate, and nothing happens to the ref."

Shaw wants to change all that. Calling rules as they're written won't necessarily mean more whistles. He believes fans will see a better game.

"I had a coach tell me 4-5 years ago that the weight room had become more important than the practice court," he said. "That's not what we want.

"We want to get the game back to a more free-flowing, open-movement game of excitement ... based on the way you play, not on the fact that you're bigger and stronger and can knock people around."

Shaw is participating in a new feature on the league's Web site called "Ask the Referee," which is the brain-child of Big 12 basketball director of communication Rob Carolla. Fans can submit questions seeking clarification of rules — not about judgment calls. The first question last week was from a fan who wondered why Oklahoma State's Keiton Page shot free throws on a Kansas State technical foul when he was not in the game at the time. Rules dictate that an eligible substitute can shoot both free throws.

"One more step in making the game more fan-friendly and to help them understand the co-existence between officials and the game," Shaw said.

This is a good thing.