Threats sent to college basketball referee John Higgins last season sent chills through the officiating community, and one conference coordinator of officials said he’s concerned about deteriorating fan conduct at games.
“It gives us great concern,” the Big 12’s Curtis Shaw said Tuesday during basketball media day at the Sprint Center. “I quit on the floor in 2010 and you always had the abusive fans, but it wasn’t to the level it is today … I think fans have gone way overboard.”
That clearly was the case after North Carolina defeated Kentucky in a NCAA regional championship game in March called by Higgins.
Higgins said more than 800 threatening messages were left to him, his family and his roofing business through voice mail, mostly from Kentucky area codes, and an investigator deemed 12 of those threats credible enough to pursue a criminal investigation.
Higgins’ business also received a flood of negative reviews, decreasing the business’ star rating. Negative comments made on the company’s Facebook page had to be taken down.
The threats were revealed in a lawsuit filed by Higgins against a Kentucky radio station that he contends encouraged the harassment.
In a different sport, Shaw cited Florida football coach Jim McElwain’s quotes saying he had received death threats from fans because of the Gators’ 3-3 start.
“I mean, fans are great,” Shaw said. “You’re allowed to come cheer, boo, be for your team. But when we start getting into personal threats it’s a little scary.
“We are worried in basketball, we’re just waiting for a fan to come out and hit a referee or an opposing player because they lose their minds.
“It’s something we’re very concerned about. Our teams and game management do a great job of educating the people down low on what they can and can’t do but it’s a great concern right now due to our social nature and the right that I can do whatever I want if I paid my ticket.”