The 98 officials selected for the N.C.A.A. tournament are randomly assigned, which often means an adjustment for coaches, players and the officials themselves.
There is a chance that a coach will not know all three officials and that the officials themselves have not worked together.
And with seasons, coaching careers and millions of dollars at stake, a delicate process must be played out under intense pressure on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“You have to quickly know what you can and can’t do and adjust,” Fisher said.
The N.C.A.A. coordinator of officiating, John Adams, who assigns referees for the tournament, lives by a simple mantra: “We don’t ever want to be the story.”
An officiating blunder darkened the Big East tournament when three referees missed two calls in the final seconds of the Rutgers-St. John’s game — including an instance when a Red Storm player stepped out of bounds with 1.7 seconds remaining — and hurried off the court into endless video loops.
Adams disagreed with the notion that coaches often do not know the officials in N.C.A.A. games, pointing out that most veteran coaches and officials have crossed paths at some point. When he assigns officials, Adams said, he prefers putting together three officials who have not worked together before. If there is a game between Michigan State and U.C.L.A., for example, Adams said he liked to assign an official who worked in the Big Ten and one who worked in the Pac-10, so neither coach feels slighted.
Adams also said there was a strong push by the N.C.A.A., through training and video study, to be sure that games are officiated the same way in the Big East as they are in the Big West, the Big 12 and everywhere in between.
“We’re trying to make it more of a science and less of an art,” he said. “We’re constantly identifying reoccurring plays and saying, ‘This is the way we’re going to referee.’ We’re trying to make it more like calling balls and strikes.”
The retired official Curtis Shaw, who worked the last of his seven Final Fours last year, said that a more uniform approach to refereeing had helped. As an example, he said a team like Wisconsin, which plays a lumbering, physical style, could be penalized if it had an official from the Southeastern Conference who was more accustomed to a free-flowing game; the official might not call the types of fouls the Badgers typically draw.
“Teams got hurt in the N.C.A.A. tournament,” Shaw said.
Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said the dynamics of N.C.A.A. tournament officiating could be distracting to coaches and players. Coaches are given the names of officials an hour before a game. An assistant for Brey finds out where they are from, and sometimes Brey asks his assistants during a game, “What’s his name again?”
Brey said he had coached N.C.A.A. tournament games in which his players would return to the huddle after an early timeout and say, “This is a little different.”
“It needs to be addressed mentally by the head coach and verbally by the head coach to his team,” Brey said. “You have to try and let it not be the distraction. I’ve fallen into the trap where it has been a distraction at times. It’s different.”
The Colonial Athletic Association commissioner, Tom Yeager, said that having three officials unfamiliar to coaches and players was not a bad thing. He said high-profile coaches were always searching for an edge and did not like to leave their comfort zones.
“It’s like knowing the home plate umpire is going to give you the outside corner,” Yeager said.
Dick Cartmell will work his 20th N.C.A.A. tournament this year, and his career includes five Final Fours and three national title games. The best compliment he can be paid may be that few people recall him refereeing those games. Cartmell officiates primarily in the Pac-10, but he said that since he had been around so long, he has worked with most of the top East Coast officials. He said that when he was assigned to a game in which he did not know the coach, he made a point to introduce himself.
“Part of being a good official is good people skills,” he said.
Cartmell said the key to officials who had never worked together was adjusting to one another in a pregame meeting. In it, Cartmell emphasized that if an official has a “closed view” of a potential call, he shouldn’t blow the whistle; another official most likely has a better view. He said the officials do not do background checks, but discuss issues like whether a team plays zone or a full-court press, to figure out positioning.
“You hope that everything goes well and the team that deserves to win, wins,” he said.
Shaw said many people do not realize how competitive the process is for a referee to officiate in the N.C.A.A. tournament. Adams and a staff of four cross the country to scout officials at more than 400 games every year. They watch in person virtually the entire list of 350 officials under consideration for the tournament.
Along with prestige for the officials, there is financial reward. Adams said officials would make $1,000 a game in the first three rounds, $1,400 for the regional rounds and $2,000 each for the national semifinals and finals.
“The competition to move on with the referees is just as hard as the teams,” Shaw said.
Shaw and Cartmell agreed that the biggest recent change in officiating is the nationwide scrutiny through advanced technology and social networking.
“Scrutiny was there, but not nearly the magnitude of the last seven years with all the technology and bloggers and 400 different camera angles,” Shaw said.
“It’s a hard game to referee,” he added. “Kids are big and fast and young and athletic.”
Part of Adams’s job is having to call and apologize. He called Mike Rice last year after a flurry of bad calls cost Robert Morris its first-round game with Villanova. He explained to Rice, now the Rutgers coach, the reason behind the referee assignment. None of those three officials refereed another N.C.A.A. game that year.
“I felt that we could have done better for both teams,” Adams said.Continue reading the main story
And here we go. The following are the tip times for the First Four games, as well as the announce and production team assignments for the second-round games. REMINDER: You'll have a channel guide to click on MyChannels at NCAA.com/MMOD come game time.
We find out the tip times for Saturday at the end of Thursday and Sunday at the end of Friday. Fans will also be able to access the games through NCAA March Madness on Demand. NCAA March Madness on Demand will provide live streaming video of every game of the new 68-team tournament as they are broadcast by CBS Sports and Turner Sports.
All times ET.
FIRST FOUR GAMES
TUESDAY, MARCH 19
6:40, truTV, Dayton: NC A&T vs. Liberty (Albert/Kerr/Sager)
9:10, truTV, Dayton: Middle Tennessee State vs. St. Mary's (Albert/Kerr/Sager)
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20
6:40, truTV, Dayton: LIU Brooklyn vs. James Madison (Nantz/Kellogg/Wolfson)
9:10, truTV, Dayton: Boise State vs. La Salle (Nantz/Kellogg/Wolfson)
ROUND OF 64 GAMES
THURSDAY AFTERNOON, MARCH 21
12:15, CBS, Auburn Hills: No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Valpo (Lundquist/Raftery/Nichols)
12:40, truTV, Lexington: No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Bucknell (Eagle/Spanarkel/LaForce)
1:40, TBS, Salt Lake City: No. 8 Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Wichita State (Dedes/Gottlieb/Maggio)
2:10, TNT, San Jose: No. 4 Saint Louis vs. No. 13 NM State. (Anderson/Bonner/Snider)
2:45, CBS, Auburn Hills: No. 6 Memphis vs. MTSU/SMC winner (Lundquist/Raftery/Nichols)
3:10, truTV, Lexington: No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 Davidson (Eagle/Spanarkel/LaForce)
4:10, TBS, Salt Lake City: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Southern (Dedes/Gottlieb/Maggio)
4:40, TNT, San Jose: No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Oregon (Anderson/Bonner/Snider)
THURSDAY EVENING, MARCH 21
6:50, TBS, Lexington: No. 1 Louisville vs. NC A&T-Liberty winner
7:15, CBS, Auburn Hills: No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State
7:20, TNT, Salt Lake City: No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Belmont
7:27, truTV, San Jose: No. 5 UNLV vs. No. 12 California
9:20, TBS, Lexington: No. 8 Colorado State vs. No. 9 Missouri
9:45, CBS, Auburn Hills: No. 5 VCU vs. No. 12 Akron
9:45, TNT, Salt Lake City: No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 14 Harvard
9:57, truTV, San Jose: No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 13 Montanta
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, MARCH 22
12:15, CBS, Philadelphia: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Albany (Harlan/Elmore/Miller/Johnson)
12:40, truTV, Kansas City: No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Ole Miss (Albert/Kerr/Sager)
1:40, TBS, Dayton: No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 Temple (Nantz/Kellogg/Wolfson)
2:10, TNT, Austin: No. 2 Miami vs. No. 15 Pacific (Brando/Gminski/Livingston)
2:45, CBS, Philadelphia: No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 Cincy (Harlan/Elmore/Miller/Johnson)
3:10, truTV, Kansas City: No. 4 K-State vs. Boise State-La Salle winner (Albert/Kerr/Sager)
4:10, TBS, Dayton: No. 1 Indiana vs. LIU Brooklyn-JMU winner (Nantz/Kellogg/Wolfson)
4:40, TNT, Austin: No. 7 Illinois vs. No. 10 Colorado (Brando/Gminski/Livingston)
FRIDAY EVENING, MARCH 22
6:50, TBS, Philly: No. 2 G'town vs. No. 15 Fla. Gulf Coast (Harlan/Elmore/Miller/Johnson)
7:15, CBS, Dayton: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Iona (Nantz/Kellogg/Wolfson)
7:20, TNT, Kansas City: No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Villanova (Albert/Kerr/Sager)
7:27, truTV, Austin: No. 3 Florida vs. No. 14 N'western St. (Brando/Gminski/Livingston)
9:20, TBS, Philadelphia: No. 7 San Diego St. vs. No. 10 OU (Harlan/Elmore/Miller/Johnson)
9:45, CBS, Dayton: No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Iowa State (Nantz/Kellogg/Wolfson)
9:50, TNT, Kansas City: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Western Kentucky (Albert/Kerr/Sager)
9:57, truTV, Austin: No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Minnesota (Brando/Gminski/Livingston)