NCAA basketball referee adapts to transformed season

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Photo courtesy of Joe Vaszily

NCAA women’s basketball referee Joe Vaszily officiating a 2019 game.

We’ve seen college football persevere through the pandemic, along with a handful of other NCAA fall sports. But as we move indoors, will winter sports, such as basketball, be able to maintain any season at all?

Westfield resident Joe Vaszily is an NCAA women’s basketball referee entering his 21st season. He said, “It is a blessing to be able to serve in a role that is part of a great game that I love.” 

After a two-week delay to the season, Vaszily could not be more excited to get back out on the court. Although changes will have to be made to take safety into account, Vaszily said, “We are going to try to make the experience as normal as it can be.”

Referees are required to take a COVID-19 test three times a week, a cost that is being split amongst conferences. Vaszily also has to fill out a daily COVID-19 update questionnaire that gets uploaded along with his test results to a dashboard on the NCAA website. 

On the court, Vaszily said they are trying to enforce social distancing as much as possible. Benches have been replaced by individual chairs that are spread apart; captains and refs must meet with each other from six feet apart; refs now meet with other officials on the floor as opposed to their locker room; and, during free throws, refs are standing off the court rather than next to the player. 

Masks must be worn until the ball is thrown up in the air at the start of the game, and all players on the sidelines are required to wear masks.

Vaszily said referees are given the option to wear a full mask that has space for a whistle or to not wear a mask and use a whistle with a pouch attached to collect spit. Either way, it is crucial for refs to be able to access their whistles to ensure they are precise in their timing of calls. 

In order to learn these new precautions, Vaszily said he had to attend a number of “study groups” which began in September. There were a total of six meetings and the current goal is to have two more meetings twice a month throughout the season so that the referees can discuss their experiences. 

Vaszily said, “There is a little apprehension” this season regarding safety, but he believes this uneasiness will soon dissipate. “Once we get into the flow of the game, we will settle in.”

In addition to new safety precautions and meetings, the schedule for the upcoming season will also be different. “It’s going to be impossible to work as many games as we had in the past,” Vaszily said. “Flying is much more difficult, so getting from a 7:00 game in one sitting to a 2:00 game the next day is not easy.” 

According to Vaszily, official plans for March Madness have yet to be released, but the tournament is expected to go on. Vaszily noted that he expects to see a consolidation of playing sites in order to minimize travel. Above all, Vaszily said, “If we can play without any interruptions, I think whoever wins the national championship deserves it… May the best team win.”