Penn AD sparks press row controversy

I’ve already written about the drama that happened on the court Saturday night at the Palestra when Penn took on Harvard. As strange as it might sound, the drama that happened off of the court was just as compelling.

At the end of regulation, as the referees huddled to determine whether Harvard guard Brandyn Curry was fouled before the buzzer, Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky stormed over to Ivy League supervisor of officials Reggie Greenwood and demanded that Greenwood go onto the floor and “stop this.”

Bilsky said, “We aren’t losing like this!” Greenwood told him in no uncertain terms that he would not interfere with the officials’ deliberations.

Curiously, the Palestra did not have a courtside monitor for the referees. Nevertheless, the refs determined that the foul had came after the clock ran out and sent the game to overtime. The lack of a monitor played an important role in the first overtime, too: A photo from The Daily Pennsylvanian proved that Penn’s Zack Rosen’s “buzzer beater” had in fact come after the end of the period.

After the end of the second overtime period, when Harvard had pulled out an epic 83-82 victory, AD Bilsky came over again to talk to Greenwood. Greenwood said, “I’m not talking to you.”

Bilsky shouted back, “I pay your salary, so you have to talk to me. That was the worst officiated game I’ve ever seen.”

Bilsky went on to complain about several calls, specifically the held ball call forced by Curry on Penn’s Zack Rosen with just over a minute left in double overtime. Greenwood continued to insist that he was not going to debate calls with Bilsky. Bilsky said, “I’m not going to wait until Tuesday night [after Penn’s game against rival Princeton] to talk to you about this” and insisted that something be done.

At this point, I left the scene to go to coach and player interviews. Evidently, the heated discussion went on for quite some time (as long as ten minutes, per Kyle Whelliston). It was clear that Greenwood (and others on press row) felt Bilsky was out of line. I personally am new to the behind-the-scenes workings of college basketball, but I find it hard to believe that Bilsky’s words and actions represent usual behavior from Athletic Department members.

New empirical research is putting forth the theory that much of what we know as “home-field advantage” in sports is actually caused by referee bias towards home teams. The prospect of an Athletic Director attempting to influence the outcome of a game (or future games) is a scary one indeed.

Bilsky’s “I pay your salary” comment, too, seems out of line. It implies not only a threat of action outside of the game, but also an attitude of importance that places one man above the game. We often question the calls that officials make after the fact, and that is well within our rights as fans and media members. The status of the call as it is being made, however, is inviolable. The sanctity of the officials is far more important than the outcome of a single game.