clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

All Along Ed's Hightower: Suspect Burr Edition

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

I promised you we'd be ever-vigilant at All Along Ed's Hightower HQ, where bad officiating is our business.  This past week, we've seen a lot of one of our usual suspects (and, speaking of Usual Suspects: RIP, guy who played Mr. Kobayashi), Jim Burr, so there's no time like the present to review our file on this menace to society.

In fact, let's use this puff piece on Burr from August 2009 as a starting point, shall we?  In poor facsimile of FJM, here we go:

Go ahead and give Jim Burr your best verbal shot.

Tell him he needs glasses. Pick on his age. Better yet, create a scene by pretending to pick up a cell phone off the floor and proclaim that he's missed three calls.

To the person who came up with the cell phone thing: I don't care if you're a Wisconsin fan, I don't care if you're a Notre Dame fan, I don't care if you're a Dook fan.  Please, identify yourself, so that I may congratulate you, because you are a beautiful, brilliant bastard of a human being and I want to be your best friend.

Burr has tuned out tongue lashings and profanity-laced tirades for close to four decades as an NCAA men's basketball official.

You say "four decades" like that's a good thing, not like it's proof that Burr is old and should have retired about five years ago and is a lawsuit waiting to happen if he keels over on the court because he's 63 and he's reffing four games in three different states in five nights and he's trying to keep pace on the floor with 20-something young men for hours at a time.

What fans and casual television viewers don't realize is that the Smithville native is one of the sport's most prominent referees.

You went with "prominent."  I would have suggested "infamous."  "Notorious," perhaps.  "Staggeringly past his prime and woefully out of shape," for sure.  To-may-to, to-mah-to, I guess.

"Jim Burr is the best referee who ever lived," said Tim Higgins, who's officiated Big East Conference games with Burr for 30 years. "I also believe he did it his way, which is not easy."

Citing a quote from Higgins -- HIGGINS! -- as support for your argument that Burr is a great official is akin to arguing that Isiah Thomas is doing a hell of a job at Florida International and citing a quote from Bobby Gonzalez as proof.  After all, the best source for an insightful opinion on a grossly incompetent person is an equally grossly incompetent person, right?

And what the hell does "he did it his way" mean, Tim?  That, at the end of his career, he largely disregarded the rule book and made sh!t up as he went along?  That, I could get on board with.

Higgins used one fact to support his opinion.  Burr has participated in 16 Division I Final Fours and officiated seven national championship games - more than any referee in history.

That's true, I checked.  Something else that's true: Burr hasn't worked a Final Four since 2006, and in, 2008, he didn't ref in the tournament at all because he didn't satisfy the NCAA requirements for post-season work.

The problem, Burr said at the time, was that he took a mandatory "online rules questionnaire and mechanics test" and submitted it to the NCAA, but the NCAA claimed they never received it.  (Another issue with all these 60-something officials: they don't realize that blaming the postman doesn't work when it comes to the Internets.)  The bigger problem, I imagine, was Burr's attempt to use a computer:


That was fun, but this next part is my favorite part of the article: the part where the author asks coaches what they think of Burr.  Let's go to the Backhanded Compliment Counter!

"A respected official is one you want on the road," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "In the Big Ten on the road, in a hostile environment, you want a guy you feel good about and won't miss any calls. He takes a lot of pride and passion in his job."

Note, if you would: Coach Weber said that, on the road in the Big 10, you want an official who "you feel good about and won't miss any calls."  He did not say that Jim Burr exhibits those qualities; he said that Burr takes pride in his job.

I believe this was deliberate.

"He's a good referee," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "He calls them like he sees them. There may be calls I disagree with, but that's the way it goes. When you have him, you get a chance at a fair treatment."

Oh my.  There's damning with faint praise, and then there's "If he's involved, you get a chance at fair treatment. I guess."  These are the quotes that are supposed to be building the guy up as a paragon in his field, right?

Burr has dropped his officiating workload to between 65 and 70 games a year.

This, in a word, is horsecrap.  Check out this link to, which includes the number of games that Burr has officiated in the last three seasons (including 2010-'11).  Perhaps mine eyes deceive me, but that appears to read the Burr reffed EIGHTY games last year, and EIGHTY-SIX the year before.

Someone correct me if my math is wrong, but the college basketball season spans about five months (November to early- or mid-April, I think).  For poops and giggles, let's say that the season lasts, on average, 160 days.  In the last two years, Burr reffed an average of 83 games per year.  That means that this 63-year-old man is officiating a game, on average, every other day.

If you stayed confined to one state, I still think you'd be exhausted with that kind of schedule.  But Burr is traveling around the country (well, half the country; I think the Pac-10 has erected a shield that keeps him out of the Pacific Time Zone) -- on Friday afternoon, for example, Burr called the Kentucky-Louisville game at the YUM! after working the Marquette-Vanderbilt game in Nashville on Wednesday night, and then, less than 24 hours after the UK-UofL matchup, he was in Milwaukee for the 10:00 a.m. West Virginia-Marquette game. That's three states in as many days.

How can anyone -- particularly Burr himself -- think that he's not getting worn down with this routine?  How can he possibly think that he's at the top of his game when he's keeping a schedule befitting George Clooney in Up in the Air?  (It was the in-flight movie on our trip to Europe, and I couldn't sleep.  Sue me.)

"I'd like to officiate maybe three more years," Burr said. "After that, I'll evaluate it. I still enjoy it. I enjoy the kids, the game, the competition. It's still fun. When it gets to a point when it isn't fun, that's the time to bow out."

So, if he keeps up the same schedule: only 240 more games!