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Iowa-Rutgers Referees Speak Out

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY -- In an unprecedented move, Big Ten coordinator of men's basketball officials Rick Boyages held a joint press conference with the three on-court referees who officiated Wednesday night's Iowa-Rutgers men's basketball game here in Fat Sandwich Arena. Officials Courtney Green, Donnie Eppley, and Brooks Wells have come under fire from a wide spectrum of basketball fans and commentators from Sioux City all the way to Davenport criticizing their performance in the Scarlet Knights' electrifying 48-46 victory over the visiting Hawkeyes. Here is a partial transcript of their statements and responses to questions.

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RICK BOYAGES: In these difficult times, the Big Ten officiating community has done some deep soul-searching and confirmed that our number one priority is the health and safety, both physical and mental, of our member institution's outstanding student-athletes, hard-working athletic staff, and dedicated fans. Pursuant to that goal, I'd like to publicly commend officials Green, Eppley, and Wells for their swift and decisive intervention in response to the terrible crisis that unfolded before our eyes last night: a crisis that threatened not only the welfare of everyone who witnessed it but the very game of basketball itself.

[Boyages pauses as several reporters begin murmuring in surprise.]

BOYAGES: Let me be absolutely clear. I was in attendance at the Iowa-Rutgers men's basketball game. These [voice breaks] incredibly brave men -- excuse me for getting a little emotional here -- made their on-court decisions in close consultation with me throughout the game, and I and the Big Ten Conference stand behind their heroic actions [pounds podium with fist] one hundred percent! With that, I'll hand it over to Donnie Eppley for more details.

DONNIE EPPLEY: Thank you for that, Rick. Let's bring it in here. I love you, man.

BOYAGES: I love you, too, Donnie.

[Boyages and Eppley hug it out.]

EPPLEY: We know folks are struggling with a frightening viral pandemic, economic and political instability, and extended periods of social isolation. In this context, it's more important than ever to be mindful of the Big Ten community's mental wellness. That's exactly why, at the eight-minute media timeout in the first half, Donnie, Brooks, and I stepped off the court to have an emergency conference with Rick. We knew that our viewers, whether in the stands or at home, must have been suffocating under an expanding and enveloping existential despair, forcing them to ponder disturbing questions like:

  • Why the hell am I watching this shit?
  • Should Iowa and Rutgers really be in the same conference?
  • Did both of these teams just go through a five minute scoreless stretch at the same time?
  • How do both teams still have plausible March Madness aspirations?
  • Is this even basketball anymore?

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, we unanimously agreed to engage in immediate harm reduction protocols, which my two esteemed colleagues here will talk about. Brooks?

BROOKS WELLS: Thank you, Donnie. It quickly became clear that a low-scoring, spirit-crushing slog was inevitable and opportunities for the fans to see actual exciting plays would be few and far between. To mitigate the trauma this was bound to cause, we decided that Keegan Murray and Ron Harper, Jr. needed to stay in the game as much as possible. We let these two outstanding players combine for a total of 43 uncalled personal fouls. Thanks to our efforts, Murray and Harper were able to stay on the floor for over 35 minutes each. No matter how bad things may seem, we've learned that they can always get worse, and they would have last night if either of those two got into foul trouble. We also basically let everyone else commit fouls on every possession, because more whistles mean more stoppages of play, and that would only make the misery drag out even longer. Our strategy was working, too, until the situation became critical when Iowa tied the score with under 30 seconds remaining. That's when Courtney took over. Last night, in my opinion, he showed why he is the best referee I've ever had the honor to work with, but I'll let him explain it in his own words.

COURTNEY GREEN: The honor is all mine, Brooks! I'll get right to the point. The absolute worst thing that we as referees could have done last night is to allow the traumatic events to persist any longer than absolutely necessary. I mean, come on! Rutgers had almost a full shot clock to work with on their last possession, and for some reason they apparently decided not to run any sort of play whatsoever? They dithered around for 20 seconds, then passed it to Harper about 30 feet from the basket and basically said, "I don't know, you figure something out." Clock runs down to two seconds left, and he isn't even looking at the basket yet. My duty was clear!

[Reporters begin murmuring again.]

IOWA REPORTER 1: Referee Green! Are you saying that you decided --

BOYAGES: Wait! It's not time for questions yet!

GREEN: That's okay, Rick. I'll answer the questions. You want answers?

IOWA REPORTER 1: I think we're entitled to them. After 39 minutes and 58 seconds of letting both teams wrestle each other to the ground, why did you call that ridiculous touch foul on Keegan Murray? Did you deliberately decide the outcome of this game?

GREEN: YOU'RE GOD DAMNED RIGHT I DID!

[The murmuring rises to a clamor.]

IOWA REPORTER 1: How dare you! I knew you refs were all crooked! How much did you get paid for selling your soul to the Big Ten's Anti-Insert-Team-Name-Here Conspiracy?

GREEN: YOU LITTLE PISSANT --

EPPLEY: Hey, it's all right, Courtney. I got this. You don't have to carry this burden alone.

[Green steps back and takes a series of deep, cleansing breaths.]

EPPLEY: Okay, let's all calm down here. Think about it, everyone. Nobody outside the state of Iowa gave a shit about the outcome of this game. Rutgers fans are just counting their lucky stars they even have a basketball team. Everybody else knows that this game will have no measurable impact on either the Big Ten race or the NCAA Tournament. It just doesn't make sense that anyone would care enough to pay actual money to fix this game.

IOWA REPORTER 1: What are you talking about? Everyone's trying to keep the Hawkeyes down! That's just science.

EPPLEY: Look, I'll prove it. Are there any reporters not from Iowa who have a question for us?

[The clamor falls to a swift silence.]

EPPLEY: I rest my case. Next question?

IOWA REPORTER 2: Setting aside my colleague's dubious conspiracy accusations, do you deny that this loss will have a seriously negative impact on Iowa's eventual seed in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments?

EPPLEY: Honestly? Yeah, I do deny that. Realistically, what's Iowa's ceiling here? They'll be lucky to get to the quarterfinals in the Big Ten. And then maybe they eke out a nail-biter in an 8-9 or 7-10 game before getting hamblasted by a 1 or 2 seed in the second round? A narrow and unwatchable win over Rutgers wouldn't have changed any of that. And the only way that was going to happen was by subjecting the fans to at least five more minutes of that godforsaken bricklayers' convention masquerading as a basketball game. By the end of the night, neither team even wanted to shoot the dang ball, and poor Jordan Bohannon was curled up on the floor in the fetal position. Courtney did the job. He did the job neither Iowa nor Rutgers seemed willing or able to do. He brought an end to the horror, and I would rather that you all just said "thank you" and went on your way.

[Clamor resumes.]

IOWA REPORTER 1: Our ceiling is the Round of 32? That's such bull! March Madness is all about the upsets, baybee! Are you seriously implying that Iowa can't pull off an upset against an underperforming top seed and get into the Sweet Sixteen?

EPPLEY: No they can't, because the Purdue Boilermakers are in the Big Ten, too, so there's no way Iowa would draw them in the second round.

IOWA REPORTER 2: Yeah, that's a fair point.

WELLS: If I may interject? You know what, Iowa fans? It's the 21st Century, and you're Iowa. If you want to see the Hawkeyes in the Sweet Sixteen, then you have to watch the women's team. The men haven't done it since '99. Meanwhile, Caitlin Clark is completely unguardable, Monika Czinano is a force of nature in the post, McKenna Warnock and Gabbie Marshall are assassins from deep, and the Hawkeye women are the best free throw shooting team in any league, college or pro, male or female. Between Bluder's Bunch and Keegan going supernova, just count your blessings and try to enjoy the next two months. Referee Green's call is a gift: an opportunity to cut your emotional losses and move on without the extra baggage of unrealistic expectations.

IOWA REPORTER 3: In his post-game comments, Fran McCaffrey said that the game should have gone to overtime. What is your response to that?

GREEN: Well, my first response is that Coach McCaffrey's team should have probably scored a lot more than six points off of Rutgers's fifteen turnovers.

EPPLEY: Keep cool, Courtney, okay?

GREEN: I'm fine. I'm fine. Don't worry, Donnie.

IOWA REPORTER 3: You still didn't answer the question about overtime. Didn't Iowa deserve a chance to win this game in overtime?

GREEN: You wanted this game to go to overtime? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THIS GAME GOING TO OVERTIME! Son, we're part of a sport that has calls, and those calls have to be made by women and men with whistles. Who's gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility for the defenseless viewers than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Iowa's tournament resume, and you curse The Refs. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know -- that Iowa's swift regulation loss, while tragic, probably saved souls; and my officiating, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves souls. Deep down in places you don't talk about in front of the Wisconsin fans, you want me to make that call -- you need me to make that call.

[Stunned silence.]

BOYAGES: Okay, I think we're done here. That went well, right?

GREEN: I mean jeez, it's not like I got a kid killed or anything.