Forgetting Ed Rush, Analyzing Sean Miller’s Controversial Technical Foul


January 19, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller talks to a referee during the first half against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Wells Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

In lue of the events that have come to light about Ed Rush, his officials and the unfortunate Sean Miller , I think it makes sense to give some sort of insight into coaching “T’s” or “Tech’s” in the general basketball sense. First I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t remember the last time I saw a technical foul called on an NBA coach, college coaching “tech’s” are somewhat rare for the antics displayed by most coaches around the country and high school is a totally different level of toleration.

Since I officiate high school basketball, I can’t say for sure what the idea is at the college level for how to handle different coaching situations or conversations. I do know that the toleration level is inherently higher, because of the money involved for all parties and for the game’s popularity on a national level. Also to throw it out there, Miller had not received a technical foul all season, for whatever reason.

As difficult as it is, let’s try and separate from Rush’s comments in this situation and just focus on the call as it was made and somewhat generally on the official that made the call.

The idea of an unsporting technical foul call on a coach or player is to ensure the “sportsmanship” of the game towards its’ officials and the game itself. Players showing up officials with their walk-off tirades where they throw up their arms, etc, that’s supposed to be a Tech (and has become a point of emphasis at the highest level in the NBA). When a coach challenges an officials’ call without asking a question, that’s supposed to be a Tech. Just like arguing balls and strikes in baseball will get you the hook from an umpire, these actions to show up an official and/or definitively question a referee’s judgement in an adamant manner is supposed to be penalized in basketball. It has nothing to do with a statement having cussing attached to it or the coach stepping too far out of his coaching box, those are just things that make it easier to blow a whistle but even those actions don’t always draw one.

Another thing to understand is that every official has his limitations and of course everyone has their idea of what is acceptable. Granted, they are wider in college and almost non-existent above that, but you have to draw the line somewhere on what you’re going to take as an official. If a proverbial stop sign is given by an official and the coach runs through it, it’s on the coach. Generally though, the official will ignore the coach waving him off or gesturing incessantly by turning a blind eye to the situation and it’s probably the right thing to do in most cases. In the case of a questionable call, officials tend to become selective hearers of their surroundings and let the coach make their point, as long as it doesn’t become personal. 

I have no idea what was said by Miller, but he (like many coaches across the college landscape) continuously pushes the envelope and the official in this case had had enough. That happens. We have no idea what was said, nobody will say for sure (which makes me wary that something worthy of a call actually WAS said), all we have been told is that there was no cussing involved. Like I’ve mentioned before, that doesn’t necessarily constitute whether or not a technical should be given.

At the same time though, you have to be a consistent applier of the rules as a college basketball official, it’s your job. Sean Miller had not received a technical foul all season long and this was the biggest game of the season for both teams in their quest for an NCAA bid. That’s something that you must know going into the game as an official. Therefore you have to go in with the mindset that “Miller absolutely will not incur a technical foul from me unless he makes it clear that he’s wanting one or totally flies off the handle”, even if he crashes your imaginary threshold ever so slightly. In that way you’ll be slower to think about blowing your whistle on anything questionable. That’s not to say that you can’t call one if the situation demands it, but everybody that saw the game said “wow that ‘T’ was really quick” and on top of that the call that was being argued on the double-dribble was wrong without a doubt.

That’s awful officiating and there’s no way around it. Unfortunately, we’ve seen far too much of the same in the NCAA Tournament, but at least most of the officials haven’t compounded the situation by “T-ing up” the coaches as they express their displeasure with the call. Maybe that’s wrong and maybe they should be given one, but it needs to start at the beginning of the season so that official’s aren’t deciding the outcome of a 2-point game in the conference tournament. In other words, if somebody had got him earlier in the season for his antics (especially this official in particular), it wouldn’t really be an issue. Since they didn’t, you simply cannot make that call.