Related development: The New York Daily News had a profile of one of the FBI investigators in the Tim Donaghy case, a story that included the recently retired Philip Scala saying he believes Donaghy's accusations that other referees have thrown games. The Daily News does not say there is evidence to support the charge. But if a supervisory special agent in charge of the Gambino squad with nearly three decades of experience and involvement in major cases puts someone through extensive interrogations and then concludes he believes the claims, that carries great weight. Said Scala: "Donaghy told us the truth...."
Former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz said in a recent statement that he has no timetable for the internal examination of a referee system covered in mud to be completed, so the white paper the NBA commissioned 50 weeks ago as a "comprehensive review of the league's rules, policies, and procedures relating to gambling and its officiating program" remains a work in progress.
That's fine. Better to do a thorough job on an important topic than a quick one. Pedowitz may have new information from Donaghy's sentencing July 29 and apparently has still been hoping to interview Donaghy, even as the attorney for the jail-bound former ref told the New York Times that won't happen. Maybe Pedowitz has indications to the contrary and is holding out hope.
But this had better be really, really good.
Whenever the Pedowitz Report comes out -- the next few minutes, the next decade -- it will be a measure of the NBA's promise to make its referee program more transparent in hopes that a greater level of understanding among fans and media will help restore the lost credibility. The ultimate handling of his work will be symbolic as much as practical. (In truth, much of the lack of understanding among reporters is because too many don't take the time to understand. The league has been more than willing to pull back the curtain. Fans can't know if the press doesn't get the stories out.)
It's a bad start that the NBA isn't able to say, nearly a year after Pedowitz was hired for the internal review, whether all the findings will be made public or some will be held back. The league also isn't disclosing whether he will issue a report or also recommend a future course.
There will undoubtedly be fine-print details. Minutia out of sight is already part of the deal -- no ref will work more than nine games involving any one team, no ref will have a game in the same city within 14 days, refs take a weekly rules test via the Internet, etc. But there must be conclusions visible to the naked eye. An internal review that's entirely internal does little to convince a doubting public of real change.
So, for credibility, for healing:
*Infractions by referees may be announced. Even the ref's union, historically opposed to its membership being exposed to more ridicule when they already face nightly verbal target practice, concedes it may have to swallow hard in the name of transparency. It would be one of the most fan-obvious policy shifts.
The public won't care in the rare instance an official is suspended for a game the way it cares when a player or coach gets hit, but the public will care that less is being hidden from view. Every discipline does not have to be announced, either. Many transgressions by refs are minor, along the lines of procedural matters, not anything reflected in games.
*Name all the names. Not just the referees. If Pedowitz does not hold top executives accountable for poor oversight, his report is meaningless.
*Recommendations. The NBA may not implement each suggestion, if Pedowitz does advocate a future course of action as opposed to simply reviewing policies already in place. But having someone who spent a year (and counting) studying the referee system make a recommendation will force the league to explain why it did not accept certain points. The league explaining its thought process should be a good thing for all.
*Media access. It's the overblown consideration because it involves reporters, and talking about themselves is always an easy fallback for the press. That's not just a basketball thing. In reality, there would be two or three times per team per season at the most that a reporter would have reason to get a post-game explanation from a ref. Anything beyond that would be an oddity.
Again: transparency. If a ref can't handle a reporter asking for a rules explanation because, probably, the issue was important enough that readers/listeners would have been hoping for an answer, the ref is in the wrong business. Besides, a lot of the officials won't mind. Most will do fine, and the ones who don't can get training or, crazy thought, have the two other refs in the room speak for them. A lot would even welcome the chance to get their side of the story out, feeling like the more a fan understands, the better it is for all involved.