COMPTON, California >> There are nearly 900 officials working in the highest level of college men’s basketball and maintaining order at thousands of games. They wear black and white striped shirts and try to be discreet.
Last season, only one of them was a woman. Her name is Crystal Hogan, and when she sat down to talk about it in February, about the lonely and confusing 1 to 900 ratio in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, she was coolly diplomatic, as a good official should be.
“I can’t answer that,” she said. “I’m just happy with the opportunity.”
Hogan, 43, is pleased to know that the number of women leading college games for top men has doubled this season with the addition of Amy Bonner. “I hope there are more to come,” Hogan said last week.
In an era where women are breaking into jobs traditionally held by men in the sports world – for example, there are female assistants in the NBA and the NFL, and Kim Ng became the first female general manager in Major League Baseball last month, with the Miami Marlins – colleges for men are generally slower to adapt.
For female basketball referees, college basketball for men is arguably the most bleak of boundaries. In the NBA, four of the 70 full-time officials last season were women, the league said. In the G League development phase, 25 of the 63 were women – a ratio comparable to that of the WNBA, where 11 of the 27 referees were women in 2020.
In college basketball, there are a total of about 500 women working in Division I; all but Hogan and Bonner work in the women’s game.
The NCAA does not keep track of how many women have ever played Division I men’s games, but it can be counted on one hand. Only one, Melanie Davis, competed in the NCAA Tournament, in a first round in 2002.
That was the year Hogan began leading. She was raised in Compton, mostly by her late grandmother, whose name is tattooed on Hogan’s wrist. She played a lot of sports as a girl, but not much basketball until high school. She quickly got on with it, making her way to Compton College, a community college coached at the time by a former NBA player, Louie Nelson, and becoming a top scorer.
“Looking back, I never paid any attention to the referees – never,” Hogan said. She laughed. “Maybe because I wasn’t playing defense I don’t know.”
She was recruited in Long Beach State. Her playing career was disappointing, she said, but she earned degrees in psychology and criminal justice, which led to a job as a social worker in Los Angeles.
Part of Hogan’s job was to guide police officers through raids and searches, sorting out the care and placement of any entrained children. She soon realized that she also liked the law enforcement aspect.
She now works as a parole agent for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where she oversees about 40 cases, people who have served time for violent crimes. She visits them once or twice a month and occasionally arrests those who violate their parole.
“You have to know your surroundings, trust your education,” Hogan said, and sometimes she talks about one of her professions, or both. “But you know what? I’m from the town of Compton. I’ve seen quite a bit. I’ve heard quite a bit. But when you treat people with respect and show them respect, you get respect back.”
In 2002, a friend asked if Hogan would be interested in a position as a way to earn money and stay connected with basketball. In the tumultuous hours between a full-time job and raising a daughter as a single mother, she went through training and worked high school girl games, which is where planners pushed her.
Her first match was with a heavyset partner who would not rotate to the prescribed duty positions on the floor, as Hogan had trained, and scolded her when she called a foul late in an outburst game.
‘He yelled at me from the backcourt,’ That’s not a mistake! Hogan said. ‘I could not believe it. For everyone. After that I was so desperate. I was so embarrassed. “
She soon hardened from criticism (“I’ve learned to ignore things – nothing really bothers me anymore,” she said) and switched to junior college women’s basketball.
She spent summers watching the Drew League, rooted not far from home, with street ball legends and professional players. In 2007 or 2008, she said, organizers pulled her to the ground to officiate, calling games with the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
A highlight remains a foul on Kobe Bryant. Her phone has a photo of her on duty with a serious expression as Bryant grins next to her.
About that time, Hogan said, she was approached by a men’s basketball coordinator.
He says, ‘If you were a man, I’d hire you today,’ Hogan recalled. She took it as a compliment. At the time, Hogan said, she had never heard of women playing college games for men at the highest level.
Over the next decade, she transitioned into the NBA development league and Division I women’s basketball, a resume not unlike that of Bonner, a veteran of the WNBA, G League and international basketball. She was with the Drew League when she caught the attention of veteran NCAA men’s officer Donnie Nunez, who mentioned her to Bobby Dibler, the men’s coordinator for six major conferences. Hogan was invited to a government officials’ camp in Las Vegas that took place during a major AAU tournament.
“You don’t know when or where it will happen, but you always end up in a game that is extremely difficult or challenging to manage,” said Dibler. “That’s where officials, unknowingly, get the chance to shine – or maybe not so well.”
Dibler was sitting in the stands when Hogan restored order in an unruly match, keeping her wits and dealing technical fouls in all the right places. Dibler was impressed. He asked his top officials: Would you like to work with her? Yes, they all said.
Verne Harris, a Division I official who also oversees referees in the Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, offered Hogan a job. She took it thinking she’d just traded in women’s Division I basketball for the chance to referee Men’s Division II matches.
Within weeks, however, a phone call came from Dibler. Hogan remembers exactly when it was – August 15, 2018, at 1:02 p.m., as she headed east on 91 Freeway, not far from where she grew up in Compton. “I mean, I could have been anywhere,” she said.
Dibler offered more than she dreamed of: a place where the Pac-12 worked, Mountai
n West, Big West, Big Sky, West Coast and Western Athletic conferences.
“I almost had an accident,” Hogan said. “The magnitude of that – I knew it would change lives.”
Hogan spent the past two seasons proving herself in non-conference games, completing her end-of-season schedule in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, and in junior college games in California.
This season Hogan will be playing big college games in the West. “She deserved it,” said Dibler.
While the NCAA has a Title IX mandate for gender balance among college athletes, there is no such initiative when it comes to government officials. Differences can be found in numerous other places in college sports, such as administration (where only a few of the 65 sports directors at summits are women) and coaching (where, for example, every Division I national champion in women’s volleyball has been coached by a man).
JD Collins, the coordinator of the NCAA men’s basketball officials, said he was unaware that many women aspire to lead men’s basketball, as women’s basketball pay is roughly the same and the pressure is often less there. The few women who have gone to the NBA have mostly made it through the ranks of women’s basketball.
“I don’t think there is any opposition on the men’s side,” Collins said. “But it also requires a desire to get on the side of the men.”
Still, the number of women leading the women’s games is on the rise. Violet Palmer, considered a pioneer for being the first woman (along with Dee Kantner) to be active in the NBA in 1997, is the coordinator of the women’s basketball officials for the Pac-12, Big West and Western Athletic conferences.
Ten years ago, she said, about 30% of her officials were women. Now it is about 60%.
“We’ve made great leaps forward, which is amazing,” said Palmer. “Some of us are die-hard women’s basketball fans. We want to promote our game. We want young girls to see women playing with women’s games. “
Many also want to see them working on men’s matches. When Bonner led a non-conference men’s game in Dayton last week, the Atlantic 10 Conference announced this as a first for the league.
Hogan’s performances are rarely noticed. On a weekday evening in February, when she was referee for a men’s game at Compton College, where she had played more than 20 years earlier, there were about 30 people in the gym.
During a dead ball, Hogan shifted to a talkative player in need of a lesson in sportsmanship. One outburst later she gave him a technical foul.
The player snuck away, lesson learned. His coach nodded, knowing it was the right decision.
Hogan kept the game going and tried to make it fair to everyone else.