Disclaimer: I am a Memphis fan. I have rooted for the program my entire life, I’ve lived in the area my entire life, I own a degree from the university, and I am currently enrolled working on a post-graduate degree. I am not advocating that Arizona was gifted a victory today against my Memphis Tigers. Rather my aim in this piece is solely Jim Burr, a referee who has continually proven his inadequacy in officiating college basketball games.
Jim Burr is a college basketball referee, and he’s been at his job for a substantially long time which is precisely where the problem lies (but more on that later). Burr was most recently at the center of controversy in the Big East Tournament when he and his two other crew members were effectively suspended for the remainder of said conference tournament for their blatant missed calls in the end of the St. Johns v. Rutgers game.
Burr returned to officiating today in the
first second round of the 68 team tourney. He made his triumphant return in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the Memphis v. Arizona game. Burr and his crew called a tight game today. My argument is not there. No, my argument arose at the end of the game, where, once again, Burr inserted himself into the game unnecessarily.
There were questionable calls throughout the game, especially my favorite charge-block call that really depends on the refs perspective; a completely subjective call. Burr’s first error occurred with approximately 00:34 seconds remaining in the second half. This is a time of schizophrenia in a game; it’s very chaotic. But it is also precisely the time when a referee should be at his best, and Jim Burr has continually proven he’s not.
Arizona inbounded the ball to guard Momo Jones. Memphis trapped Jones in the near-side baseline corner. There could have been a five second call (it was close, but I don’t know if it was definitively five seconds). Instead, Jones, whose back is to the near-side baseline where Jim Burr is positioned, is granted a timeout to escape the trap. And who granted that timeout? None other than Jim Burr who could not see Jones’ hands.
The end-game chaos continues, but with five seconds remaining and Memphis trialing by three, guard Joe Jackson was fouled. He calmly sunk the first freebie. Then Memphis tried the old intentionally missed free throw play. And, somewhat miraculously, it worked. Memphis forward Wesley Witherspoon grabbed the loose ball, but Arizona’s All-American Derrick Williams swatted away the open lay-up. And Arizona won.
But replays showed that Arizona forward Jamelle Horn hit Witherspoon from behind, and Williams’ chest crashed into Witherspoon’s elbow before the shot. And there was Jim Burr, right in the middle, swallowing the whistle he’d blown all game long. I understand that in the waning seconds of a game, refs are unlikely to allow the game to be decided at the charity stripe. That’s not the point of this article. The point is Jim Burr.
Burr has worked 16 Final Fours since the mid-1980s. He’s earned a reputation, among his peers and national sportswriters, as a qualified referee. But therein lies the problem. Burr has joined the club, the proverbial “good ole boy club.” It’s clear, from the last two games he’s worked, that Burr is too old for the job. Can we really expect a 60 year old man to keep up with the fast-paced athletes of modern college basketball?
Quite simply, he’s too old. And he creates too much controversy. March Madness deserves better. The players deserve better. Fans and coaches deserve better. It’s time for old Jim to retire, whether he wants it or not. A tournament as good as the NCAA provides should not be shrouded in referee controversy. It should be about the players and the coaches. It should not be about a referee creating controversy. Unfortunately, every time Jim Burr pulls on the zebra stripes, he creates controversy by inserting himself in the game. The NCAA needs to hold its referees accountable, and that begins with Jim Burr.