ANAHEIM, Calif. — Michigan State’s Tom Izzo was overall in excellent spirits on Sunday night following his team’s 77-64 win over Providence. After all, his team is 7-0 for only the second time in 13 years and is playing as well as anyone in America.
However, Izzo did let his displeasure for one aspect of college basketball be known.
He’s not happy with the way the game is being officiated so far this season following rule changes in the offseason to increase “freedom of movement.” Following a game in which both his star player, Denzel Valentine, and Providence’s star player, Kris Dunn, were saddled with foul trouble, Izzo let loose a bit on his unhappiness with the way games have been called this season.
For the sake of completeness, clarity, and nuance within his answers, CBS Sports has transcribed word-for-word what Izzo said to each question from his presser. As you’ll see, he went on quite extensively and clearly had a lot on his mind. The first answer came following a question about how encouraging it was for Michigan State to play well with Valentine having to sit for a large portion of the first half. Izzo mentioned that that part was, indeed, encouraging, then began to discuss officiating mandates overall this season.
“It was out of sync,” Izzo said. “I know everyone’s going to say it’s not the officials fault, and I talked to (Providence coach Ed Cooley) about it, and I know there are certain talking heads that agree with all of this. I just don’t. I don’t think there’s any flow to the game. I have no problem with chucking cutters and calling that. But this stuff way out on the floor…I mean, they have to do it. I guess the coaches were involved in (the rule changes), so maybe I’ll blame myself. But I feel sorry for guys like (Valentine) because he doesn’t foul much, and it’s the same with their guy. And the refs say ‘well it’s the same call,’ and I say ‘yeah, I didn’t like it on my team and I didn’t like it on their team.’ So at least I was not prejudiced by my team.
“I just think we’re taking the flow of the game away. Maybe it’ll change. We’ll play by the same rules everybody else does. But I think I can voice my opinion to say that I don’t agree with it. And if somebody can prove to me where if you touch a guy 30 feet from the basket with two hands and you don’t impede his progress, why we want the best players on the bench and why we want a free throw contest. But this is the first time I’ve spoken out about it because I didn’t like it either way. I didn’t like having Denzel on the bench, and I didn’t even like watching Dunn on the bench. Those were two of the best players on the floor.”
CBS Sports followed up by asking Izzo if his team needs to adapt to the rule changes around the country.
“We’re always adjusting,” Izzo said. “Like I said, I don’t want to get into it because I’ll just…I mean, I won’t get fined because…I love the officials, I think they’re awesome (laughter). I don’t think it’s their fault. They’re scared to death. I just think there’s a difference between ‘freedom of movement’ — which are the big words we use — and touching a guy 30 feet from the basket. I just do. I think if you’re impeding progress, that is a foul. But oh my god, I mean some of us on them and on them. And I know they have to call them.
“So make sure you don’t tweet this now and leave out the officials…it’s not their fault. Because that’s the way they’re mandated to call them. So I am really either blaming the rules committee, which ends up on the coaches somewhat. So I’m looking in the mirror and blaming myself because I should have argued it more maybe. I just don’t think it’s fun to have these guys sitting. Then I’m sitting there, I’m not going to play Denzel Valentine for 12, 13 minutes in the first half? I’m sure he’s wondering. To his credit, he even asked me. Not that he didn’t want to play, it’s just that I’m scared to death too.
“I don’t think that makes our game as good. But that’s me. I’m allowed to disagree. I’m going to do whatever they tell me to do. We’re going to play the game. But I don’t know. I haven’t heard many people say they enjoy walks to the free throw line or the best players on the bench. If I’m wrong, and if they think we’re going to change and all of a sudden play belly-bump ball, then maybe it’ll work. I’m going to do it.”
While plenty of coaches were leery in the preseason of potential officiating problems, Izzo is one of the first coaches to publicly disagree with the mandated changes in officiating for college basketball during the season now that games have been played. And obviously, it’s going to be news when one of the sport’s flag-bearing coaches disagrees with something important happening around college basketball.
It’ll be interesting to see if more coaches follow suit, and it’ll also be interesting to see if the rule changes continue to take hold and becoming talking points throughout the season.