Crystal Lake Central’s boys basketball team had just been whistled for 25 fouls, leading to 39 Crystal Lake South free-throw attempts and three Central players disqualified with five fouls.
So what did Tigers coach Rich Czeslawski think of the game officiated by Joe Fritsch, Tom McGowan and Don Williams? He had no problems whatsoever. Czeslawski knew the referees were just doing what has been mandated this season by calling fouls for even the slightest contact.
“Until kids learn to play without putting their hands on people, it’s going to be like this,” Czeslawski said. “What’s unfortunate is it’s never been called until now. It makes it a better game to watch.
“Not right now with all the fouls, but when they learn how to play defense the right way, and there’s freer movement, it’s going to make for a better game for the fans, for the players … it’s not going to be football.”
It will require some more adjusting. The IHSA, through the National Federation of State High School Associations, has made calling more contact a point of emphasis with officials in an effort to curb physical play. As Czeslawski puts it, “It’s going to be basketball.” Some boys and girls games have been difficult, however, with the constant parade to the free-throw line.
Eventually, the IHSA, officials, coaches and players hope tighter officiating leads to better games to watch.
In the past, local referee Steve Massie said, officials used to look at what advantage was gained with contact, whether it was the offensive or defensive player, and called fouls accordingly.
“Now, you have to call [contact],” said Massie, a Carpentersville resident. “It’s going to take a while to adjust. I like to tell the kids, ‘Hands off!’ and keep the game going. Let’s get a good flow going. Honestly, do you want to have a free-throw contest? If this is what the IHSA wants, that’s what we have to do as officials, coaches and players.”
IHSA staff members can check on games all over the state through webcasts to see if officials are adhering to the new guidelines, which also include technical fouls on coaches for stepping outside the 14-foot coaching box for any reason other than approaching the scorer’s table for correctable errors.
“They’ll call you on it,” Massie said.
So this season may have some frustrating growing-pain moments as the players adapt to the new style of officiating. High school coaches mention they have seen the emphasis on the college level as well.
“It’s going to take a while,” Cary-Grove junior guard Jason Gregoire said. “I was always taught, ‘Get up in a guy’s grill and really pressure him and make him uncomfortable.’ That it’s all right to get a forearm in him while he’s dribbling down the court.’ It’ll be a lot better toward the end of the year.”
Whether it’s more free throws or more room to maneuver or shoot, as Gregoire says he has noticed, offensive numbers should increase.
“Sometimes it stops the game a little bit [with free throws],” Huntley girls player Sam Andrews said. “I definitely like it [on offense] because you can drive to the basket more and it’s easier to get [referees] to call fouls.”
Huntley boys coach Marty Manning doesn’t mind games being called tighter, although he wishes the focus would be more on inside play.
“The only thing that bothers me is calling hand checks 45 feet from the basket and then you have guys underneath almost getting their arms taken off trying to shoot and fouls aren’t called,” Manning said. “The players are adjusting now, but I’m interested in seeing what the officials will call two or three months from now around the playoffs.”
C-G girls basketball coach Rod Saffert said he actually had not seen a huge difference in the way most of the Trojans’ game so far have been called.
“Teams like us and Huntley go after each other physically and I didn’t feel like there was an abundance of fouls,” said Saffert, referring to Tuesday’s 58-48 loss. “Scoring is higher than in the past. It certainly opens it up for the offense. I do think there’s a lack of consistency at this point, the referees are learning how to get used to it, as well as the coaches. I don’t think [the officials] do it on purpose, it’s just a tough adjustment for everybody.”
Czeslawski feels it may take most of the season for players to get used to the changes.
“I just hope the referees stay consistent and keep calling it that way,” Czeslawski said. “It’s not going to change unless they do, unless kids are fouling out all the time and say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to foul out anymore,’ and make a change.”
Coaches boxed in
The ugliness of last year’s Class 2A boys basketball state championship game became the impetus for one of the IHSA’s points of emphasis this season.
Officials have been instructed by the IHSA to adhere to “zero tolerance” regarding coaches leaving the 14-foot coaching box. Any step outside that area and the coach is supposed to be assessed a technical foul.
The only exception mentioned in an IHSA handout given to coaches before the season is for approaching the scorer’s table concerning a correctable error.
In last year’s Class 2A state championship game, Harrisburg defeated Seton Academy, 50-44. Seton's Mark Weems Jr. picked up a technical foul late in the first half, then another for bumping an official, resulting in his ejection.
Seton Academy coach Brandon Thomas and Harrisburg coach Randy Smithpeters both received sanctions after the game from the IHSA. Thomas’ was for a profanity-laced tirade at halftime witnessed by IHSA administrative staff, Smithpeters for violating the coaching box rule in the first half, although he was not assessed a technical foul.
Seton Academy did not pick up its second-place trophy after the game.
In the IHSA’s statement to coaches regarding the new emphasis: “The unfortunate incident in the Boys 2A State Title Game has caused there to be an increased emphasis on this rule. … Officials are instructed to assess a technical foul WITHOUT WARNING to head coaches who violate this rule.” The statement goes on to warn coaches to remain in the box at all times to communicate with players or officials or even get a drink of water.