Making the Call

Published: Feb. 20, 2017 at 1:36 PM EST
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When you travel the United States and referee about 80 games a season - even with GPS - all roads look the same.

"I think we should turn left here, but it says right. I've been several different ways to this place."

That's the life of North Baltimore, Ohio native Terry Wymer - a 20 year basketball official in the Big Ten Conference.

"OK, Canfield is right here," Wymer says. "Canfield is the way I went last time."

Wymer first pulled on the stripes 32 years ago. Today, he does most of his work in the Midwest with a focus on the Big Ten. Wymer now also works in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference, along with mid-major leagues around the Midwest such as the Horizon, Mid-American and Missouri Valley.

So far this season, Wymer has trips to each Big Ten campus behind him, plus trips to places such as Arkansas, Florida, Massachusetts and North Carolina.

13abc joined Wymer in the middle of a 10-day, seven game road trip spanning the Midwest, to Washington, D.C. and back to Chicago.

In the air and on the ground with O'Hare International Airport as his temporary home for a few days, it's back in the car to Evanston, Ill., for the game between Illinois and Northwestern.

Even with the previous day off at his hotel, Terry doesn't stop working on his craft.

"Yesterday I got caught up on a lot of game reports and videos since I work in three BCS leagues, we got a lot of video reviews," Wymer said. "So yesterday, I watched Big Ten stuff, caught up on reports, worked on the ACC stuff and the SEC."

Thanks to technology, officials working in the larger conferences have immediate access after games to video of their game and specific plays on their tablets.

Rising referee Courtney Green joins Wymer for the car ride to Evanston as he is one of the three officials working the game. In fact after the game - before even checking his phone in the car - Green is on his tablet reviewing plays from the Illinois/Northwestern game.

"There are basically 150 plays in a game," Wymer said. "We'll go back and if there's a 50/50 play - block/charge - things like that; we'll go back and look at those plays to make sure we're in position. We'll look at positioning and how we're working as a crew matching up for plays and making sure we get the call correct."

Terry and Courtney arrive at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 4:55 p.m. CT. They need to be on site at least 90 minutes before tip time which on this night is 7 p.m.

The trio of Wymer, Green and Bo Boroski are on the floor about 20 minutes before the game to watch warm-ups and exchange handshakes with people they know at each arena.

Wymer leads the pre-game captains meeting on the floor at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

"Don't talk this way," as Wymer points to both captains to make sure their teammates are not talking trash to the opposing team on the floor. "If you got something to say, say it to us. Other than that, make a lot of baskets tonight. It'll make the night easy."

It's now 7:07 p.m. CT which means it's time to throw up the ball and start this rivalry game.

Outside of two trips to check the monitor for shot clock timing errors - from an officiating perspective - it's a quiet night as the Illini pick up a big seven point win over the Wildcats.

A quick trip back to the room for a shower and it's back into the car to the hotel.

Thanks to social media and the ability to watch most games on television or a device, men's college basketball officials are now household names to some fans. The fanatics are quick to criticize from their keyboards and the feedback is not always polite in tone.

Wymer is not on social media, but his adult children are and they are well aware of the mild to extreme criticism he receives for his work.

"The average person doesn't understand what we do and how difficult it is with what we do," Wymer said. "I've never refereed a perfect game. Never will.

"I'll probably go back to the hotel and there's four plays I want to look at at the top of my head. So I'll review some stuff later tonight before I go to bed and catch a flight up to Minnesota tomorrow."

Wymer's next game is the next night at the University of Minnesota as the Gophers play host to Iowa.

Williams Arena - better known as "The Barn" - is a tough place to win this season. The Hawkeyes take the Gophers to double overtime, which means a late return to the hotel after the game for Wymer. The next morning, he'll board a plane back to O'Hare.

The morning after the game with the Gophers and Hawkeyes, Wymer is back on the ground in Chicago. He finds his new rental car, eats lunch and sneaks in a quick nap before heading out to Valparaiso, Ind., for his third game in three nights.

On the way out from his hotel, Wymer stops at a nearby hotel to pick up Gene Steratore. Gene will work the Horizon League game with Terry between Cleveland State and Valparaiso. Wymer picks up the third official Donnie Eppley outside Midway Airport en route to Northwest Indiana.

Thanks to traffic, it's about a two and a half hour drive to Valparaiso. This is the part of the day where the nap has its benefits.

"Getting your rest, eating correctly, the more sleep you can get the better off you'll be, when you travel especially with the schedule that we keep," Wymer said.

Valparaiso is the team to beat this season in the Horizon League, while Cleveland State has seen better years.

"Hey guys, late in the season. Finish strong, we'll catch you in the tournaments and good luck," Wymer tells the captains in the pre-game meeting on the floor.

Much like two nights earlier for Terry, his new trio has an uneventful night. The Crusaders build a big lead early and Valparaiso beats the Vikings by 21.

It's now 8:40 p.m. in Northwest Indiana and the race back to Midway and O'Hare is on for Terry and the crew. He leaves again the next day for Raleigh, N.C., as he'll work the Clemson/Duke game in Durham, N.C. - game number six for Wymer on this 10 day trip.

Terry keeps a few things in mind as he points his rental car back toward the road.

"No controversial calls, just doing the best we can possibly do. Grade out very high on the reviews and not show up on SportsCenter for some crazy play."