Monday, March 07, 2005

Fisking the Big Ten on the Hartzell Affair

Click here for AmazonUpdated, scroll down to the bottom for Big Ten contact info.

Last Friday, the 4th, the Big Ten released an official statement on the Hartzell affair. Just to refresh your memory, University of Northern Iowa Athletic Director Rick Hartzell and Southern Illinois Trustee Ed Hightower officiated the crucial Indiana/Wisconsin game.

With an NCAA bid hanging in the balance for the bubble team (IU), Hartzell and Hightower laid the proverbial officiating egg. In other words, many of the calls appeared (to me at least) very, very odd. ESPN's announcers present at the game noted the poor calls and Doug Gottlieb, an analyst back at the studio, also made mention of the low quality of the officiating. He called into question the reasoning of the Big Ten in having two officials affiliated with or employed by bubble teams refereeing another bubble team's game. After all, a slot in the NCAA tournament is worth, quite literally, a fortune.

Let's put it in even simpler terms: when Kentucky fans complain that IU got hosed, you know something's going on.

So anyhow, a day after we unleashed a mini-blogswarm on the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference released its Offical Statement" on the matter.

Personally, I think the Big Ten exhibited all the sound judgment of Anna Nicole Smith at a Tijuana pharmacy. But let's just Fisk their statement properly, shall we? My comments are in bold.

The Big Ten has communicated its extreme disappointment and concern to ESPN's management relative to statements made by Mr. Doug Gottlieb at the halftime of Thursday's Purdue at Illinois basketball game on ESPN2.

Specifically Mr. Gottlieb called into question the integrity of Mr. Rick Hartzell, an official in Tuesday's Indiana at Wisconsin basketball game, telecast by ESPN.

Read the transcript (below): Mr. Gottlieb simply stated that there was the appearance of a conflict of interest. He neither impugned Hartzell's integrity nor called Hartzell names. He simply stated the obvious - an Athletic Director with a bubble team should in no way, shape or form be officiating another bubble team's game. It just looks bad. Period.

In addition Mr. Gottlieb questioned the professionalism of Big Ten Associate Commissioner Rich Falk relative to the administration of the Big Ten's men's basketball officiating program.

Again, read the transcript. Gottlieb questioned Falk's judgment. It is as accurate to say Gottlieb impugned Falk's professionalism than it is to say Gottlieb also closed Sportscenter that night by singing an aria from Puccini . Or is Falk, unbeknownst to us, some sort of higher being -- an officating deity, as it were -- who is beyond being questioned? Last time I checked, Falk was a human being, just as fallible as you and I. And therefore his judgment, especially in a matter such as this, can be questioned.

Neither statement should have been made, and in our view these statements represent an example of irresponsible sports `reporting'.

Both statements could and should have been made. Or does the Big Ten advocate stifling free speech, burning the U.S. Constitution and, with it, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights? I, for one, will not sit here while you bad-mouth the United States of America! (...everyone hum now .... hmmm hmmm hmmm hmm...)

It is unfortunate that Mr. Gottlieb, whose own reputation for honest dealings has been called into question in the past, has been placed in the position by ESPN to pass judgment on a well-regarded, veteran official working a Big Ten basketball game, and a Big Ten associate commissioner who has rendered valuable service to the Conference and college basketball for decades.

Ewww, nice cheap shot on Gottlieb. And a beautiful changeup that disregards the fact that both announcers at the game criticized some of the calls and that Gottlieb was not the only reporter questioning this odd situation. This sort of practice is bogus, plain and simple. Anyone with half a brain could recognize that putting a combo-A.D.-and-referee in such a position is as sound an idea as having MC Hammer manage your investments.

The Big Ten Conference considers this matter concluded and will have no further comment.

It's over when we say it's over. Next time try answering the questions raised: will the Big Ten (and for that matter, the NCAA) address this practice? Why would Rich Falk make such an officiating assigment? Surely there was an officiating team available whose members weren't employed by a University in contention for a bubble spot? Or did the other officiating squads call in sick?

You know, I think I see another blogswarm on the horizon.


"As we take you back to Tuesday night Indiana-Wisconsin it's obvious that there may not be a real clear cut, a clear cut bad call made on this particular play.

But if you watch it there is the appearance that maybe there is a conflict of interest. You know, Indiana trailed by one and it looked like Wilkinson fouls on the play...Mike Wilkinson fouls on the play. Mike Davis obviously went nuts but Rick Hartzell was the official who was in position.

And that conflict of interest or at least the appearance of the conflict of interest is apparent because Rick Hartzell is the athletic director at Northern Iowa. Now if he's the AD for a bubble team, why is he officiating a game involving another bubble team in a game that could cost Mike Davis his job, and could definitely cost Indiana a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament?

I'm not saying there is a clear cut conflict of interest, but there is at least that appearance. And it lends the question, why is Rich Falk assigning him to a game in the Big Ten? He's the conference officials commissioner, and why is he assigning him to this game, and why wasn't a switch made at the last second so that there's never that appearance? When it was obviously at least to Steve Lavin, who was calling the game as the color man for ESPN. He said it was a bad call. I agree. It was a totally blown missed call. But now there the appearance of the conflict of interest because there's no call made and because he's the AD at Northern Iowa."

Big Ten Conference Statement

Update: Here's some contact information, which I believe is up-to-date. Please contact, politely, any of the parties below to ask them the salient questions. The non-statement they released is, in my opinion, completely insufficient in dealing with this issue.

Commissioner, James E. Delany (Email)
Associate Commissioner, Rich Falk (Email)
Director of Communications, Scott Chipman (Email)
Associate Director of Communications, Robin Jentes (Email)
Assistant Director of Communications, Jeff Smith (Email)

Big Ten Conference
1500 West Higgins Road
Park Ridge, IL 60068-6300
(847) 696-1010

Fax numbers: Comm. (847) 696-1110

For those of you bloggers out there, email me a link to your blog entry on this topic and I'll be glad to link to it. Anyone else, if you can get an answer out of the Big Ten, please email it to me and I'll be happy to post a summary.

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