Legendary CBB Official Dr. Ed Hightower Takes Time to Visit EXCLUSIVLY with Spartan Nation!

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College basketball officials are some of the most highly criticized referees in all of sports. Athletics at the collegiate level, especially in the Big Ten Conference, bring out a burning passion in fans and athletes that can’t be compared. They expect the best, night in and night out from everyone involved, which is why even the men who don the black and white striped shirts must bring their “A” game.

One of the most recognizable figures in college basketball, referee Dr. Ed Hightower, recently granted Spartan Nation an exclusive interview to discuss the state of the game and where we are headed as a sport.

Many people don’t understand the how the officiating in college hoops is handled. It is not a full-time job. Hightower, who holds a Doctorate degree in Educational Administration, has dedicated his life to helping kids on and off the court.

“I’m superintendent of schools in Edwardsville, Illinois,” said Hightower. “I have 8,000 students and 1,100 employees… I’m also the Vice Chairs
for the Board of Trustees of all the Southern Illinois University campuses, SIU Carbondale, the Salukis and SIU Edwardsville, the Cougars, and they just went division one there.”

Staying true with his teaching and helping manner, Hightower is not one to issue quick fouls. He takes the time out to give the players a
chance to stop acting out, and if they don’t seize the opportunity, out comes Hightower’s whistle.

“I’m from the old school and I’m an educator,” said Hightower. “At a time when these young people are doing their best their working hard, they’re trying to refine and develop their craft to move onto the next level, this game is not about [the refs], and for those individuals who think we are trying to get on TV, let me just tell you, guys like myself who have been around for a while, what you don’t want to be is on TV! If you can hold that whistle and tell them not to do [the argument], then the game is better.”

Fans expect to see Hightower on the court every time they turn on the television for a key game. He has been assigned to 12 Final Fours
and has been a staple in the Big Ten for the better part of three decades.

“I’ve been very fortunate over the years, I’ve been in the Big Ten for 31 years,” explained Hightower. “I broke in on a crew when I was
about 28 years old and I worked my first Final Four when I was 34 years old so I’ve been around a long time. I realize I don’t run as fast as I used to and I realize that my time is getting near and I’m going to fade away. But the moment that I stop being able to enjoy the game and make a contribution toward the game, then I want to walk away, because its not about my ego…It’s about being a perfectionist and trying to make the game better for the kids.”

Hightower understands that the game provides young people the opportunity to look up to the athletes on the court. Even though those
competing can be considered kids in their own right, they are on national television every game, students of all walks of life model themselves after their favorite athletes.

“[Refereeing] is about being fair and making sure there is an equal shot for both teams to win,” said Hightower. “There are some kids that you can’t help but have an affinity for.  You tell me one person who couldn’t admire and respect {Draymond} Green. There is a young man right there that you want to take into every high school and every elementary school that you want to say, ‘young people, this is who you to be like. Here is a leader. Here is a guy that gives back that makes everyone around him better because of his positive attitude and how he represents himself, his family, the Big Ten Community as well as his fine university, Michigan State.”

Even with the games played in the Big East, scoring across college basketball has been on a steady downward trend the past few years. Hightower believes that even with smaller numbers being printed in the box scores, there is no reason for fans to worry.

“I think college basketball is as good as ever,” said Hightower. “I’ve been around this game a long, long time and watched it evolve and go through major changes and certainly when the NCAA made the change when young people could leave early, we all said basketball was going to dissipate into something we wouldn’t recognize. Attendance is a good as ever. The Final Fours are as good as ever. The bottom line is I don’t think we have to be so concerned about scoring as the kids being fundamentally sound, kids doing it the right ways, kids are going out and being ethical in their approach game and we go out and represent the game of college basketball the way that we should. That’s what we should be
concerned about.”

So what is in store for the game of college basketball? With some of the more recognizable officials in the sports closing in on retirement,
fans may need to expect a transition period for this younger generation of officials to acclimate themselves with the big stage.

“Some of the veteran officials, me included, Jim Burr, Steve Welmer, Ted Hilary, when those guys are starting to transition out of college
basketball and the next tier of officials is starting to move in, there is that transitional period that you go through,” explained Hightower. “I really
believe college basketball is in good hands and that supervisors across the country are working hard to make the game consistent.”

As for Hightower, though his time as an on-court college basketball official may soon be coming to a close, he plans on continuing his
career in education and dedicating himself to assisting young people everyday.

“I will go back to teaching at the university level once I’m done as superintendent,” said Hightower. “I’m always in that teaching mode.”