The Problem With Referees in Pro Sports


Matt Luci and John Park

If you ask any athlete if they have ever felt that refs have controlled the outcome of a game, they will all say yes. Anyone who has played any level of athletics will say that refs could be better. Even though this has been a problem forever, recently it has gained some headlines.

In the NBA playoffs this year, the Houston Rockets specifically believe that they have been cheated out of wins due to referees. In game one of the Western Conference semifinals, Houston thinks they were cheated out of multiple foul calls due to the team they are playing: The Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have won the last two NBA Championships and are a polarizing team. Some love them for how good they are, others hate them. The argument against them is that their team is unfair. Houston has spoken out and claimed that refs give them favorable calls just because of their star power.

These two teams rivalry goes back beyond this year. In the 2018 Western Conference Finals, the Rockets and Warriors were fighting to make it to the NBA Finals. Some people viewed the Warriors as unbeatable, so when Houston took a 3-2 lead it looked like the Warriors dynasty was going to have to take a pause. Eventually the Warriors won the series in 7 games and people started to blame the refs. This caused the Rockets front office to audit the last game in this series. They found 81 missed/non calls that they believed cost them the game.

This information came out after another badly called game between these two. Part of Houston’s frustration is that they are trying to beat the most stacked team in the history of basketball. They think that they have found proof that referees have held them back from reaching their goal. Some fans even noticed that one of the refs were wearing Kevin Durant’s signature shoes (Kevin Durant plays for Golden State).

The Rockets aren’t the only team to feel this way, they are just the most vocal. Very few teams decide to take real action against this issue. Another team to do this was the New Orleans Saints. In the NFC championship this winter, a player from the Los Angeles Rams committed an obvious pass interference call on a Saints receiver. No call was made and the Rams ended up winning the game. Although the Saints weren’t guaranteed to win if they got the call, it would have been highly likely. The Saints took action with the league, but no changes were made.

We are seeing some teams take actions against referees in general, but some players and fans are taking it more personal. For example James Harden has spoken out that he thinks it is personal between him and NBA referee Scott Foster. Foster’s negative history officiating Rockets games has been well documented, yet the NBA still had him ref a playoff game between Houston and Golden State.

Fans have taken this personally also. New Orleans fans did their research and found out that 4 of the refs from the NFC Championship are from California. This goes beyond sports. Are the refs just making calls that favor their hometown team? There are so many factors that go into the rivalry between refs and players, coaches, fans, etc.

Since we have so many problems with referees these days, what’s the solution? And why is it escalating now? It’s not like within the last couple years they hired a bunch of replacement refs (yes it happened in the NFL for a little). Is it because players and fans are more dedicated? More vocal? Or are the refs actually worse? There is 100% chance we are going to have to keep living with the way games are being called today. There is no change coming, so we just have to get used to occasional bad calls, in some cases games being stolen due to them. This brings the human element to sports. The disappointing part of it is the large scale mistakes we have been seeing. Unless major changes take place, referees will continue to affect the results of games.