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A foul must be intentional

By James Giago Davies Native Sun News Today Managing Editor

Over time creations are refined, nothing can ever be perfect, and the more complicated our association with anything created, the less perfect that thing is. There are more rules to the game of American football than any other sport—because this sport is far short of being refined—and so the rules are constantly tweaked. The sport thrives because the framework is powerful and compelling, and to the American mind, the ultimate sports entertainment vehicle. Baseball, soccer, basketball, in that order, are far closer to perfection than football. Baseball is the most refined sport on the planet, but the ump’s control of the strike zone was, is, and will probably always be, problematic. Because of the offsides rule, soccer gets a bit dodgy, and aside from that rule, the game is foundationally arbitrary, denying people the use of the most fundamental of human utility tools—our hands. Basketball has a big problem with which fans and players suffer every season—fouls. The very idea of fouls, how they impact the game, is deeply flawed in basketball, and so officials cannot help but express that flaw in every game. And because fouling is so flawed, it tends to bring out the worst in human nature when to comes to blowing a whistle, corrupted by bias, incompetence, or malice.

Intent matters, and if there is no intent, logically there can be no infraction. If we are reckless or careless then in that recklessness and carelessness, intent is implied. But basketball officials do not factor intent.

There is a play in football, which the officials monitor, and in that monitoring these officials have had their whistle gifted with a perfect response, This is rare in life, and deliciously ironic, giving it involves one of the most corrupted and imperfect aspects of any sports competition—officiating, and officiating in the most imperfect of sports—football. If one of the players fouls and it is not in pursuit of the ball, just trying to prevent the other player from catching it, it is called pass interference. BUT—if the officials deem the ball not otherwise catchable, there is no foul. Repeat—THERE IS NO FOUL.

In basketball, fouls are routinely called by officials regardless of intent, to the detriment of play. One incident from this year’s Boys State B championship game illustrates. There is a loose ball, a player is focused on the ball and dives for it. He has only one intent, to get the ball. Drill after practice drill has infused a hustle imperative in his brain, he has no other intent. But the official blows his whistle because he collides with the legs of an opponent who isn’t after the ball, doesn’t know where it is, and who is moving through his hustle window. The color commentator makes matters worse by excusing this call, speciously reasoning that the officials must make such calls to protect players, even though if there was no intent, how can punishing a player deter future infraction? The call simply hurts the game, needlessly influences outcome, and contributes exactly nothing to the intent given for making the call—protecting players.

Basketball officials have had far too great an impact on the outcome of games, not only just this season, but every season. They are underpaid, overstressed, and their ranks inundated with flawed personalities working negative agendas, agendas rife with bias, bigotry, racism and malice. There is no system in place to independently and fairly evaluate their actions or competence. It is just assumed to exist, and not just until proven otherwise, because there is no system to prove otherwise. Other states employ an evaluation system, South Dakota does not. The SDHSAA, like the officials, are overworked and underpaid, and so the stat page, listing past state champs in basketball, has not been updated since 2010. You don’t get much more unprofessional than that.

But the answer is not to demonize the officiating, or rundown the SDHSAA. Because if they are the things suggested in this column then all that would produce is indifference or animus. It is ironic Yankton would win a championship over a better Mitchell team in 2023 by referee whistles, given how badly Yankton was cheated in a semi-final against SF O’Gorman four years back, the shot that beat them having not even left the shooter’s hand before the buzzer went off.

My advice to officials, who have only contempt for any person giving them advice, check your arrogance and self-importance—swallow that whistle before you blow it, if you are blowing it just because there was an infraction which could not possibly compromise outcome, swallow it if you are blowing it to service an internal agenda of sanctimony or intolerance. And help them accomplish that, SDHSAA, by implementing an evaluation system you don’t control. Let coaches complete routine evaluations of official performance, let them decide as a group which officials have their confidence and trust.

When I look back at that O’Gorman win over Yankton, I always look at the Yankton players, teenage boys truly victimized, deeply wounded by a system flawed to encourage bad officiating, with no system in place to police bad apple policing by officials.

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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