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ESD basketball games back to three referees

Referees, Eric Donat, Duane Fiola and Luke Langner converse during a Mitchell High School boys' basketball game against Brandon Valley Friday at the Corn Palace.

The Eastern South Dakota Conference is going back to three-referee crews for basketball games.

Last year, the league tried an experimental season in which two officials worked ESD girls' and boys' basketball games. The conference decided to drop one official per game to save money on school athletic budgets.

"It was a topic of conversation all last year," Mitchell Activities Director Geoff Gross said. "We tried it for a year as a conference and one of the main questions was: Would the savings of $80 outweigh the benefit of having another official? We decided it wasn't a big enough benefit."

Each ESD basketball official earns $80 per game, plus mileage, this season. Last year they earned $75 per game, plus mileage.

With Mitchell's boys' and girls' teams having 14 combined home conference games this season, the school is paying $3,360, before mileage, for officials. Had the conference stuck to two-person crews, it would have paid $1,120 less. ESD schools last season each saved $1,050 by choosing to have two officials instead of three work basketball games.

Buck Timmins, a Mitchell resident, is in his third year of assigning officials for ESD games. He said the change was made at the conference athletic directors' spring meeting earlier this year that he attended. While discussing the change during last year's basketball season, Timmins realized most officials felt more comfortable working as a three-person group.

"Personally, I thought they did a nice job with a two-person crew," said Timmins, who believes the conference will stick with three-person crews for quite a while. "The thing is when you've got two officials, you're not going to be able to see everything.

"Basically, the sideline coverages weren't covered like they would be on a three-person crew. A lot of action on the weak side, away from the ball, was probably being missed. It's hard for two officials to watch 10 players."

Timmins said about 15 officials chose not to be scheduled for ESD games last year, strictly because of the change. He assigned games for 65 officials statewide last year, but he's back to assigning games to about 80 officials this season since the conference went back to a three-person crew.

Former Mitchell boys' coach Gary Munsen and Watertown girls' coach Pat McClemans both agree it's good to go back to three-person crews.

"With the athletes as good as they are, this gives better court coverage, but with three officials we better call some fouls," McClemans said.

Munsen noticed the difference between the ways regular-season games were being called as to the postseason. In district, region and state tournament play, the South Dakota High School Activities Association mandates that three referees are used in each game.

"I think there was some physical play with a two-man crew and teams got away with an awful lot of illegal picks," the retired coach said of the regular-season conference games.

Gross believes the switch last year did not affect the outcome of any games that he witnessed. But when the officials made their voice heard that they wanted to go back to three-person crews, the conference agreed it was better for everyone involved.

"To some people, it wouldn't matter if we had 75 officials," Gross said. "The game wouldn't be called the way they wanted it to be called. There's always going to be the human element, and that's part of sports."