Creighton fans concerned about how the Bluejays will handle what is expected to be a more physical style of play in the new Big East should rest easy, the league's supervisor of officials said Monday.
John Cahill, who refereed 11 Final Fours and seven NCAA championship games in a 40-year career as an official, was in Omaha to watch the Bluejays practice. Afterward, he addressed the team, discussing several points of emphasis for the coming season.
In an interview with The World-Herald, Cahill said he believes Creighton will adjust well in its new league, which is made up of seven members of the old Big East as well as the Bluejays, Butler and Xavier.
“Having watched Creighton scrimmage and having watched them as a spectator in years past in the NCAA tournament, I think they play a style that will fit in nicely with the rest of the Big East schools,'' Cahill said. “The thing that I found in my officiating career is that in the Big East, every possession is defended and challenged.
“Having seen them for a short period of time today, I think that's exactly what coach Mac is trying to impart on them. He wants them to play hard on every single play.''
Creighton coach Greg McDermott said the league coaches were overjoyed when Cahill was hired to his new position. He worked his final game last April in Atlanta when he officiated the title game between Louisville and Michigan.
“Everyone has the highest respect for John,'' McDermott said. “He's the guy we wanted in that position.''
Cahill, who lives in Albany, N.Y., will oversee a staff of 41 officials. Many referees regularly worked games in the old league, but Cahill said he has added several who are Midwestern-based.
“I wanted to give some comfort level to Creighton, Butler and Xavier,'' Cahill said. “I will continue to try to balance the staff along geographical lines, but my goal is to get the best officials possible every single night.''
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Cahill is aware that there is probably some degree of apprehension on the part of the league's three new schools. He sensed the same when schools such of Marquette and DePaul joined the old league.
“There's always apprehension when you're the new kid on the block,'' Cahill said. “There is definitely an adjustment period for coaches, and I can understand their concern.
“I've expressed to my guys that they have to be a little understanding with coaches and to work with them a little. I don't want them to have running conversations but it never hurts to have a kind word or when there is a break in play to try to put a guy at ease and make him feel at home.''
In talking with the players, Cahill stressed that officials in all leagues have been instructed by the NCAA to focus on defensive fouls on the perimeter.
“The NCAA said there is not enough scoring,'' Cahill told the players. “There's too much contact out here (on the perimeter) to call something every time guys bump into each other.
“But there are four specific items that are supposed to be called on a perimeter defender every single time. When I was an official, if you were going north to south (toward the basket), we called hand checks. If a guy was going east to west (toward the sideline), we didn't call it. That's not the case anymore.''
The four points of emphasis regarding perimeter defenders, according to Cahill, are:
» Keeping a hand or forearm on an offensive player in an attempt to “measure” a player. “The key word is keep,'' he said.
» Jamming an offensive player with a hand or forearm more than once. “If you do it a second time,'' Cahill said, “it's a foul every time.''
» Placing two hands on an offensive player. “There's no free pass on this one,'' he said. “It's a foul every time.''
» Attempting to use a hand or forearm to impede the progress of a player's dribble. “You have to throw your hands and take contact with your torso,'' he said. “They want you to play defense with your feet.''
Cahill admitted having officials target those infractions will have ramifications.
“I think it could lead to what I would call some ugly games in that they could be interrupted quite frequently,'' he said. “I think you'll see an abundance of fouls early as teams try to adjust.
“But I've been instructed by the NCAA and I've instructed my staff to call these things fouls.''
Cahill went over a number of other points with the players, including how officials will have more discretion in assessing flagrant fouls. He then took some questions and offered some advice based on his experience as an official.
“There's nobody that likes the guys in striped shirts from November first to April first,'' he said. “Sometimes their wives like them, but for the most part, they have no one else but each other. So don't get in the habit of being a whiner, a complainer or a guy that taunts guys. If you do, that's going to get around. It's human nature, and it spreads. And you won't get the benefit of the doubt when something else happens.''
Cahill's new position will allow him to stay involved in the game he loves but he admits it will require some adjustments on his part.
“I've done this on the major-college level the past 25 or 30 years,'' he said. “The blood does get flowing when I come into a gym and I know I won't have the striped shirt on ever again.
“But it was time for me to turn the page. This position, if I do it properly, will allow me to stay in the game a lot longer than I could have stayed on the floor.''