Under a larger microscope

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By John Herndon

Lynn Gritton knows he has always been performing under a microscope, but this year the magnification has been turned up at least 100 times.

"With the media coverage what it is today, you are scrutinized from the time you step out of your car until the time you leave," says the veteran basketball official. "You just have to accept it. It's part of it."

Gritton, who calls games at the middle school, high school and college level, and other officials were unwittingly put in even a brighter spotlight when news broke in July that NBA official Tim Donaghy was involved in a gambling scandal. Donaghy allegedly gave inside information to bettors and could have influenced the outcomes of games.

Donaghy, who was rated as an above-average official, according to the New York Times, was indicted on federal charges and expelled from the league.

Gritton says the news was not completely unexpected. "I wasn't overly surprised," Gritton says. "I was slightly but the amount of money at that level is so great. All it takes is for the wrong person to get to someone."

While reports later surfaced that as many as six other NBA officials had been caught up in some form of gambling, commissioner David Stern characterized Donaghy as a "rogue," and defended the integrity of the league's officials.

Few believe that high school basketball produces a scenario that could result in something as drastic as the NBA scandal, but there are ramifications that trickle down from the highest level.

"What happened was a black eye for all officials," Gritton says. "The average fan thinks all officials cheat."

Gritton is widely considered one of the better high school officials in central Kentucky. He has been calling high school games for 16 years, 12 at the varsity level. For the last 10 years, he's also put on the striped shirt for college basketball. He currently NAIA games, including the ultra-competitive Mid-South Conference.

In the past, Gritton has also worked the Ohio Valley Conference and the Atlantic Sun but decided to give up the Division I work because of the travel involved.

The 2007-08 season will present some new challenges for officials as game decorum has become a point of emphasis at every level.

"The rule this year is that when the clock is running, the coach has to be in the coach's box and all other people on the bench have to be seated," Gritton says.

Much more publicized has been what is to be a crackdown on profanity during games. Some have made light of the decision, citing the improbability that coaches such as Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino will be able to make it through most games without uttering the magic words.

Others have joked that George Carlin's list of "Seven Dirty Words" will now be part of the rulebook.

Gritton simply smiles but says the time for a crackdown has come. "There is a point where there is just too much going on," he says. "At some point in time, it becomes less about the game and more about them."

The rule is black-and-white, but Gritton believes there is some latitude for common sense that would will keep the spotlight on the players and not on officials. "If someone says something you are supposed to stick 'em (with a technical foul)," Gritton says. "But if a kid is frustrated and says something under his breath, I will probably say something to him first.

"Now when it gets personal, that is a little different."

Officials must also be cognizant of how a kid presents himself on the floor, too. "I think that for some reason, we have to police the game more than we had to," he says. "Things like keeping shirt tails in, things like that."

While the media scrutiny is intense, the technology has begun to help officials in a limited sense. Football has the instant replay, but the flow of basketball does not allow frequent use of that medium. "In colleges, you have a monitor that you can use to help make a decision on a last-second shot or to see who started a fight. You also have the light around the backboard, which is helpful," he says.

"You don't have those things in the high school level."

Gritton knows he works in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environment.

"There's a saying, 'People don't remember what happens in the first quarter but what happens in the last two minutes, everybody remembers,'" he says with a smile.

Like every player, Gritton hopes that this season ends with a trip to the Sweet 16. While he's a good official, Gritton has never received that call telling him he has been selected the best of the lot of approximately 50 Eighth Region officials. "I think all officials have that dream of working the state tournament," he says.

But he also knows that officiating is one profession that being unnoticed is a mark of success.

"When people say they didn't notice you at the game, it is a compliment. The game is about the kids and the players," Gritton says. "When you have a losing coach tell you that you have done a good job, that is a compliment."