A career as NCAA hoops referee
Scott Thornley spoke to the Rotary club Thursday in Pocatello about his 30 years of serving as a referee for college basketball games. Yann Ranaivo/Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO - Any calls they make against the home team are usually not received well by the home audience, and they can receive just as much blame for a loss as the players and coaches.

These challenges are common in a referee's career, but Scott Thornley said his biggest problem is much more simple.

"It's just the traveling," said Thornley, an NCAA basketball referee.

Thornley, an Aberdeen native, spoke to the Rotary Club of Pocatello Thursday at the Red Lion Hotel about his 30 years officiating college basketball games. Since the late 1970s, Thornley has worked in six NCAA conferences and has officiated four Final Four contests and three national championship games.

With refereeing duties in six conferences and about 65 games per year, it is not hard to see why Thornley lists travel as one of his biggest challenges. In addition, he has regularly joined the 96 out of 1,200 college basketball referees who officiate the annual NCAA men's Division 1 basketball championship.

After graduating from Aberdeen High School in 1963, Thornley attended Idaho State University before taking a teaching job at Highland High School. His adventure in officiating began when he was asked to volunteer as a referee for junior varsity games.

"It's not a hard career to start," Thornley said, adding that one way to get into refereeing is to officiate high school games. "The hard part is climbing the ladder."

Though referees are popular figures on the sports scene, Thornley said little is known about what kind of people they truly are or how they got into the profession.

"We're kind of a mysterious group," he said. "We just show up wearing zebra stripes."

After having continued his other career as a teacher until 1998, Thornley said almost anybody he meets could be a referee. He said other referees he's known have also been school superintendents, loan officers, nuclear physicists and military servicemen.

"You can kind of look around this room and see that you can all be basketball referees," Thornley told Rotarians.