CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — It’s been a busy week for the top women’s basketball officials. Such is life during conference tournament season.
Veteran referee Joe Vaszily went back and forth between South Carolina and Connecticut over the weekend, shuttling between the ACC and American conference tournaments before heading to the Big East championship game Tuesday night in Milwaukee. He wasn’t the only one, as many of the top referees split their time between those conferences as well as the Big 12 and SEC.
Dee Kantner did the ACC Tournament semifinals before heading across South Carolina to referee the SEC championship game on Sunday. From there it was off to the Big 12 title game in Oklahoma City a day later before joining Vaszily in Wisconsin.
“It’s always an honor to be asked to do this,” Vaszily said. “I feel fortunate to be selected to work one of those championship games and don’t take it for granted. Every year you have to work hard to put yourself in the position to be selected. It’s like a reward for the body of work you do during the year.”
While the travel may seem like a lot, it’s no different than what officials are used to during the regular season. They could be in five or six different cities in a week, which could make it tough to stay sharp, but the officials have it down to a science. Eating right, getting in workouts in the morning and napping in the afternoon, they are ready come game time.
Which games they might be doing, that’s a little tougher. Just imagine it as trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle.
With all of the Power Five conferences as well as the Big East and American playing over the past week, it made for a lot of communication among the conference official coordinators.
“There’s a lot of talking that goes on between all of us,” said ACC coordinator of officials Charlene Curtis. “We try to make it work so that we can get the best officials doing as many games as possible.”
The planning starts in early February with tournament invites being sent out the second week of that month. Before the season even starts officials rank which conferences they would prefer to work for, so that helps solve the puzzle.
“We don’t tell them what game they are doing, but just what day to close out on their schedule,” said Deb Williamson, who is the officials’ coordinator of the Big East and American. “We’ll then talk to each other and see how we can make it work.”
That may mean working an early game at one tournament so that an official can catch a flight to work the next day in another city. Vaszily had the 11 a.m. tip at the ACC Tournament on Friday, then drove to catch a flight to Uncasville, Connecticut to work a game on Saturday. He returned Sunday to do the ACC championship game.
Once that game was over, it was a 3-hour drive to Raleigh to catch a flight back to Connecticut for the American final Monday night.
While officials are responsible for their hotels during the regular season, Williamson said that her conferences take care of postseason hotel rooms.
“With so many teams in town for the tournaments, this way we can make sure officials are in a hotel that teams aren’t staying at,” she said.
While the official coordinators can control a lot, the one thing that’s out of their hands is the weather. That’s their largest concern.
“That’s your biggest enemy,” Williamson said. “We were fortunate that this year there were no weather issues this past week. I always have my officials text me their flight info and then text me when they take off and land.”
Vaszily said he’s constantly checking the weather app on his phone starting a week ahead of games to know about any potential problems as soon as possible.
“Two years ago I missed two games in Atlanta because of ice down there,” Vaszily said. “I’ve missed a game at Marist also because of a major storm, but other than that I’ve been lucky.”
Up next is the NCAA Tournament, where life becomes a bit easier.
“The NCAA Tournament is great,” Vaszily said. “You’re only working two games maximum in the first two rounds. You have a day off in the middle. There’s plenty of time to travel and that’s nice.”
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