Busting Brackets

Book Review: How To Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship For Fun and Profit by James Wolfe


Is rigging the biggest game in college basketball really possible?

That’s what the main character in the new novel by James Wolfe, How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship For Fun and Profit, wants to know.

Stanley Osborn is a college basketball referee that is tired of watching the game that he loves slowly turn into something else. A sport driven by money and politics. A sport in desperate need of reform.

So he decides to fix it. Literally.

He puts a long-term plan in place in hopes of getting a chance to officiate the grandest game in college hoops, the national championship game.

And this is where it started for me. In reading the journey that Osborn takes on his quest towards his ultimate goal, a swift dose of reality hit.

Ya know, this is actually feasible. Could college basketball be susceptible to this?

The more I asked myself that question, the more the answer kept getting strong in one particular direction: yes, yes it could.

The Tim Donaghy scandal in the NBA caught everyone by surprise. But should it have? Referees are human beings, just like everyone else. They are put in a position where they control the game. They are trusted by the NCAA  to call the game right down the middle, with no outside factors influencing their decisions on the court.

Yet the biggest truth associated with refereeing is that it is subjective. And everyone knows it.

Fans and coaches are quick to put the blame on a referee for making a bad call. Why? Because they know they can. Calls are subjective. They are made based on what one specific person saw.

But due to biases and such, most fans, coaches, and players only see it from one viewpoint. The one that will benefit his or her team.

And that’s where Wolfe absolutely nails it in this book. Take this excerpt, for example, from the “Notes on What I Did, How and Why I Did It” section, where Osborn is explaining why he did what he did:

"Analysts and coaches are fond of saying that they like consistency of the officiating within a game so that the players know how to play. Obviously the rules don’t fluctuate within a game, or from contest to contest. They are not different for different conferences or schools. But enforcement is different. What’s a foul to one official isn’t always a foul to another. What’s a foul in one conference isn’t one in another. What’s a foul one night, isn’t another night. What’s a foul in the first half may not even be a foul in the second half. How games are officiated varies tremendously from game to game, quarter to quarter, from minute to minute. From player to player. Dare I say some stars are given preferential treatment?"

Would you disagree with any of the above? I wouldn’t. But in all honesty, how many times do you stop and think about officiating that way?

That’s what makes this a very enjoyable read. Without a dog in the hunt, it allows us to take a step back and really think about the game itself. Is basketball in its current form vulnerable to something like this? Can something as subjective as officiating be changed so that it’s not possible for this type of event to ever happen?

Sure, this is a novel. But the ideas and concepts behind it could easily apply to the state of basketball and officiating today.

A referee will never get every call right. But like Stanley Osborn, what if he wasn’t trying to?

RATING: 5/5 (a quick read with an intriguing story that makes you think about the state of officiating)

You can purchase the book (under 10 bucks) on Amazon by clicking here. Also, be sure to head over to jameswolfebooks.com for more information as well as other books written by the author, including sports titles like Little Balls Big Dreams and Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Chicago Cubs Curse.