Will the referees be the team that wins the Golden State-Houston playoff series?

Sports, when reduced to their most fundamental form, involve two teams competing against one another. They’ll battle until the end of the game, at which point one wins. However, this result isn’t supposed to be influenced by a third party — or a third team, if you will. But that’s exactly what the team of referees has done to affect the first game of the playoff series between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.

Now, in another less crucial and contentious situation, this issue could be overlooked, but as this is the Western Conference Semifinals, the refereeing debacle is impossible to ignore. Additionally, ESPN.com published an article today detailing how the Houston Rockets audited the refereeing performance in Game 7 of last year’s playoff series between the two teams, and charged that they were denied a berth in the NBA Finals.

This is quite a serious accusation, but it is merely the latest in a litany of complaints about the growing number of refereeing blunders across the four major American sports (basketball, football, baseball and hockey). There are a variety of sides to this argument, each raging about how they think their “fix” is the right one. But the fact of the matter is that, before we even begin discussing any wide-ranging remedy, one major problem must be addressed, regardless of sport: the refereeing guidelines.

Over the past decade, many purist fans believe that sports are being refereed to the extent where the players have become “soft.” The fans feel that this is because referees have placed the onus upon themselves to play it close to the chest and err on the side of calling an infraction. Then there’s the problem of handing out discipline: it seems like this happens anytime a player opens his mouth. I’m not suggesting that referees should simply absorb any and all verbal abuse; that’d be ridiculous. But if a player simply expresses his disagreement with a call or lack of one, it shouldn’t be met with discipline. This is what the Houston Rockets have petitioned the NBA about, and it is a story that will not end any time soon.

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