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The uncompromising lens of a television camera never looks away. Its always on the lookout for the unusual and the controversial, and television is changing the way officials do their jobs. More games are on the air and more cameras are being used rarely is anything missed.

Read your local paper or turn on the TV or radio; scrutiny of officials is increasing. Almost every big league professional sporting event is televised by a local station or cable. A growing percentage of college games is on television, and its becoming common for high school contests to be taped and played back on cable. When something out of the ordinary happens, cameras and video recorders make sure viewers repeatedly see it. At all levels of competition, its common for parents and relatives to bring high quality cameras to games. Local newspapers, hungry for news, write up every game. Local television stations have also put the word out to fans: If something odd happens theyd like to see the tape and possibly use it on the air.

The John Hirschbeck Roberto Alomar incident, and later the playoff game involving Richie Garcia and Jeffrey Maier, the New York school boy who interfered with a fly ball, highlighted what many in officiating have known for some time: There is not a play or incident that goes unreported. The next time youre watching a game on TV or listening to it on radio, count the number of times the announcers comment on an official.

CNN/SI, the new 24-hour all sports network from CNN, is one of three full-time sports networks to go on the air in the last year (ESPN-News and Fox Sports News being the other two). In addition, countless regional and local networks are dedicating more time and resources to sports coverage.

"I think its given (the networks) an opportunity to get people information, so there is nothing they havent seen in terms of game coverage and in terms of highlights," says Steve Robinson, managing editor of CNN/SI. He says officials are put in the spotlight more than ever before. According to Robinson, "No longer do you get your sports at six and 11 and if you missed it, then youve missed it. It gives you the opportunity to see the play that everyone is talking about, the kid with the home run ball at Yankee Stadium, Alomar spitting, a disputed touchdown. It gives everyone an opportunity to see it."

Televisions constant demand for video material is changing the way officials at all levels deal with the media. Bruce Froemming, a 25-year NL umpire, has witnessed the evolution of television coverage. "In the 70s, when I started in the big leagues, the news was 30 minutes. Sports was maybe three or four minutes. Unless there was something out of the ordinary, you never even mentioned umpiring," he says. "Now when you go to bed at night and you turn on any of the cable stations, you see your arguments, you see the play, the discussions by the media over the play and player reaction to the call and on and on. They come on and say, Look at this play; look at this call."

Veteran AL umpire and crew chief Joe Brinkman has seen the change coming. "Back then, normally everyone was on their best behavior for the Game of the Week; nothing really happened because everyone said they were on TV today, so they made sure they didnt say anything to anybody. Today, because everybody is on, were just living like it is. They (the viewers) get to see the dirty laundry, so to speak."

Radio is also a much bigger factor. During the 1996 World Series between Atlanta and New York, one of the hottest topics on the call-in circuit concerned the umpire who would be working the plate that night. An interesting question to be sure, but one that was unheard of five or seven years ago when there were only a handful of all-sports stations.

Interviews with officials after a game are becoming more common. "Well see more of this especially at the professional and college level," said Robinson. Many leagues and conferences currently have written policies for officials limiting discussion of on-the-field calls and rules questions with reporters.

Tony Thompson, who oversees the baseball staffs of the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southern Conference and the Southern Collegiate Umpire Association, schedules umpires for nearly 70 colleges and universities from the University of Maryland to Louisiana State University. "I dont want my umpires talking to the media. If there is a rules question, the umpire can show the reporter the specific rule that was applied on a particular call, but under no circumstances will we have our umpires talking to the media after the game about a judgment call," he says. "If a reporter has a question, he can always call me. And truthfully, the media in the cities where our games are, usually are pretty good," he continues, "If they have a question, they come to me rather than bothering the umpires." Thompson says dealing with the media any other way can be a career-breaker.

Froemming worries about the saturation coverage and about the quality and objectivity of those who cover the games. "From the medias standpoint, they think they do an excellent job. But from our standpoint we think the media is unfair. The media become fans instead of reporters. It seems so many times (officials) get the short end of the stick as far as criticism." He says too many reporters act like "homers" rather than trying to get the facts objectively.

Joe Marosy, commissioner of IABBO Board number 12 in Washington, D.C., assigns basketball referees at the high school and small college level throughout D.C. and southern Maryland. "I tell my officials, If you have a situation where a reporter wants to talk to you, politely decline the request and give them my number," he says. Marosy is a retired Division I official who says the way reporters deal with officials has changed dramatically, and not for the better, since he called his first game in 1969. "Now it seems many reporters are interested in stirring up controversy or making a name for themselves rather than getting the story right," he says.

Marosy claims he has not noticed much of a difference in media coverage at the high school level, but things certainly have changed for officials at the college level. "These men and women are increasingly under a microscope," he says. Actually, the microscope is a big zoom lens.

Marosy, Thompson and other supervisors say its essential for supervisors to have a clear policy when dealing with the media that everyone from the rookie official to the seasoned veteran can understand and follow. While the controversial call that ends up on your local TV newscast probably wont damage your officiating career, poorly thought-out comments, made in haste or with a defensive attitude, to a reporter will be replayed over and over again on television.

Reporters and play-by-play announcers in the future will be more aggressive about what they have to say about officials. Officials are going to be on television more and more. Because of the huge salaries paid to the players, sports are viewed more as entertainment, like attending a big name concert or movie. The officials, because they play such an important role in the game, are often viewed as supporting actors. The new rules have evolved right before our eyes; were not the final judges anymore and we have to face that realization every day, every game, when the TV camera zooms in and takes a deep, long look.

Thanks to Dan Ronan and Referee Magazine Jan 2004.