Hondo: You and I share a mutual friend. Ed Hightower has been on this show many. I believe the way games are officiated and so differentiated is hurting the game. Hightower thinks that an official working every night is not good for the game. Do you agree and how do we fix it?
Izzo: I agree and that’s not knocking any official. I couldn’t coach six days a week. I couldn’t coach six games a week. I don’t travel like they do and I’ll never agree that they can do that as officials. That’s number one. Number two, when you never have travel partners you get three different refs in three different parts of the country, especially in theNCAA Tournament. I think that’s difficult. Now in fairness to the officials, because they’re independent contracted and not union workers, they have the right to go do what they want. I don’t think college basketball or the NCAA or the presidents wanna unionize them and pay them accordingly with benefits and everything else. That’s why they do what they do. So it’s a catch 22. It’s a little different than football that has groups that work every week so they kind of mesh together. It’d be like putting an all- star team out there every week in basketball. You know how hard that is to get an all-star team to play together well. That’s kind of what we’ve done now. I’m not in favor of that, especially in the NCAA tournament. You got the west coast, the south, the midwest. You put them in there and I think it’s difficult for them, difficult for us. So I don’t agree with the system. I don’t have an answer for it because of the independent contractor and the money they’d lose and the fact that we won’t pay their fringe benefits and all the things that go with it. That’s why they do what they do. So it’s a very difficult situation. It’s just a difficult situation that I don’t think anybody would disagree. If you took the 3 best officials I’ve ever known in my 25-30 years here, I still would question what kind of job they could do working six days a week. It’ll never change. It never used to be that way until the last 10 years when TV now has mandated that there’s games seven days a week, so you need officials. That’s where we are.
Hondo: Ed Hightower talks with such respect to you on this show. You do like him, do you not?
Izzo: Oh yeah. Eddie’s been through a tough time. You know what he is? I know this will sound bad, it’s like saying it about a coach so it really shouldn’t sound bad. He’s one of the more honest, great character human beings that I have ever met. What I mean by that is he’s made bad calls, I’ve told him, and when he has he’s felt bad about it. And when I’ve challenged him on calls and I was wrong and I felt bad because I know there’ll never be a call he’ll make that he hasn’t put everything into that call. He refs with passion. He’s as conscientious a human being as you’ll ever wanna meet. There could be times when I don’t like him. There may be times he makes a mistake. But I know it’s never for the wrong reasons. I’ve always respected that about Eddie and I always will.
Hondo: He said he called you and apologized once for causing you a championship.
Izzo: That’s right. It’s kinda true. It was a game at Purdue that led to that, the last game of the year. There was a semi mistake. That’s what I’m saying about the guy. It takes a lot more to say you’re wrong than it does to say you’re right. That includes all of us, me included by the way. Sometimes he does a better job than I do of saying, You know what? I might’ve made a mistake on that. Or whatever the case may be. So yeah, there are a lot of officials that I have great respect for. Some that I respect but I don’t even like the way the system is because I don’t think it’s all their fault. But it is a tireless, hard job. Some of the rules we put in, like the elbowing, we’re putting people in positions where I think they look bad and nobody understands half the calls. It’s difficult, but trust me…we’ve got a lot of guys that are good and they’re trying to do their best. I think the fatigue, wear and tear, and the way the game is being played, the way the game is being coach, the way the game is being administered meaning there’s so many games a week, has really changed life for an official.
Hondo: Thanks for your time Tom, you didn’t have to do this.
Izzo: Thanks Hondo, this was perfect!