OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Referee John Higgins of Omaha reported he received death threats after Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina in the NCAA South Regional final, a Nebraska law enforcement official said Wednesday.
Higgins’ roofing company received about 3,000 harassing emails and an unknown number of phone calls, some including death threats, said Capt. Kevin Griger, investigations commander for the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department.
The Facebook page for Higgins’ roofing company also was inundated with negative comments about Higgins and the quality of his company’s work. Griger described it Wednesday as an orchestrated effort to “run down his Better Business Bureau rating.”
Higgins also spoke with Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer about death threats he received on his home phone, which has an unlisted number, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Higgins’ home is in Omaha, in Douglas County, and his roofing company’s office is in neighboring Sarpy County.
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said Higgins is still scheduled to work one of the games in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday. Higgins will be working his eighth Final Four.
Gavitt said that while the NCAA appreciates the passion fans bring to college basketball, the behavior of some fans toward Higgins is not appropriate.
“John is one of the most experienced and qualified college referees in the country, evidenced by his many years of officiating during March Madness, and for some fans to not only question his character but also criticize his private business is unfortunate,” Gavitt said. “While we understand it’s nearly impossible to officiate a game without fans getting upset about a call, it’s also important that behavior during or after a game reflects the same standards of good sportsmanship that we encourage of our coaches and student-athletes.”
North Carolina defeated Kentucky 75-73 on Sunday, winning on Luke Maye’s last-second shot. Kentucky coach John Calipari opened his news conference with a comment about foul calls. Freshmen stars Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk each picked up two fouls in the first half. Fox, Monk and Derek Willis finished with four.
“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance,” Calipari said.
It’s unclear whether the two other officials who worked the game, Keith Kimble and Mike Reed, received any threats.
In a statement, the Kentucky athletic department said: “While we were all disappointed to see a memorable season end on Sunday and we appreciate the support our fans showed our student-athletes all year, we encourage our fans to demonstrate good sportsmanship to everyone and discourage any other kind of behavior.”
Griger said Higgins on Tuesday spoke with Sarpy County investigators about the death threats. None of the threats were specific, Griger said.
He said investigators would go through each Facebook message to determine its credibility and, if any are found to be credible, would work with Facebook to locate the sender.
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