The Cards, Officiating, and Story Telling

I am often surprised at how people think. Or, not surprised so much, as I am amused. The latest round for me is focused on my beloved Louisville Cardinal basketball team and the buzz that seems to be surrounding what others are calling a controversial jump ball called at the end of last night’s final four game against Wichita State. Let’s forget for a moment that Louisville is my team, and that the call went “my” way. I’ve had the exact same point of view a couple years back when Louisville lost a game on a last-second call that went against then-Cardinal Preston Knowles. In both cases, the referee made the right call.

But in both cases some people say “it’s a shame the refs decided the game.”

To which, I say bull-hockey.

In both cases the players decided the game. The refs just made the calls they were supposed to make. In fact, if the refs don’t make those calls then they are actually guilty of doing what they are being bitched at for–specifically deciding the game themselves. If they don’t make those calls, they are giving one team an advantage they didn’t earn.

In the Knowles case from a few years back, he fouled a player with a half-second left on the clock. Stupid foul. But the other team then deserved foul shots, and to not call that foul would have been a cowardly act. But the ref stood up and made the gutsy, right call. In this case, Preston Knowles decided that game. The ref just pointed it out.

Last night, Luke Hancock made a great play, tying up a loose ball that gave Louisville possession. He and Ron Baker, the Wichita State player, decided the game. Not the ref. The only way the official could have decided the game would have been to not award the jump ball that Luke Hancock deserved, to remove the advantage he had gained by ignoring it. Yet people who seem perfectly sane at other times come out of the woodwork after these events and suggest that some great wrong has occurred because referees are trying to “make this about them.”


In the end, I think this has a lot to do with story (you knew I was going to get back to writing, eh?)

People want stories to end in certain ways. They want the underdog to win or lose on a shot at the hoop. They want a victory to come with a big validation, a resounding dunk with two second to go, or a celebratory toss of the ball into the stands. The idea that a foul or other infraction seals a game is somehow not exciting enough, it’s not satisfying enough to these people.

And that feeling is so strong that it overrides their sense of justice. Perhaps they don’t see this. But it’s completely true. Rather than cheer the remarkably gutty performance of Luke Hancock creating the tie-up (as if it were dunk-worthy, which it was), these people deflate. They feel cheated.

The reason this boggles my mind is that I am not like that. It’s taken me some real thinking over the years to actually acknowledge this other perspective, to give it its proper due, to realize its proper place. But I think now that I’ve got it, that it’s an important lesson for us writers.

Fans want stories to end in ways that are satisfying to them, and at the end of the day they are willing to give you a lot of leeway to make that happen.

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