Ex-NFL referee is going back to his college basketball roots

Gene Steratore won’t be nervous this Selection Sunday — he’s already made it to the Final Four.

Steratore was widely known as an NFL referee who went straight from calling Super Bowl LII to joining CBS’ NFL broadcast team this past June. Steratore’s more anonymous job was as a college basketball referee.

He recalls going through the same process that teams do on Selection Sunday, without the pageantry of a bracket reveal.

“We received an email or phone call that Sunday as well that said, ‘Congratulations you are one of the 100 referees selected to be in the NCAA Tournament,’ ” Steratore said. “The excitement as an official is almost as identical as what you see from the young men to be part of the spectacle also.”

Officials advance round by round depending on performance in the previous rounds as judged by NCAA higher-ups and an on-site grader. There will be no such stress this year for Steratore after he traded in the stripes for a microphone.

Gene SteratorePaul J. Bereswill

Though, it might surprise some fans to see him breaking down charges and blocking controversies the same way he does pass interference calls, given the notoriety NFL referees receive compared to those in college hoops.

“One of my greatest compliments is when I see that someone said, ‘I didn’t know you refereed college basketball,’ ” Steratore said. “That meant I did a pretty decent job because I wasn’t being recognized for mistakes. As social media grew over the last decade and there was the tying in of the fact that, ‘Isn’t that guy who is calling the basketball game also an NFL referee?’ ”

Steratore, 56, will work the First Four to the Elite Eight in the studio before going to Minneapolis for CBS and Turner’s Final Four coverage. He is the first to cover multiple sports in the growing position of rules analyst in broadcasting and the first time the networks have utilized one for the NCAA Tournament.

Steratore is used to following multiple NFL games each day, but the wall-to-wall action in the opening Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament will be a unique challenge.

“It’s a little different than football with the game staggered in 20-25 [minute] increments between games, so there won’t be that pause at halftime for five minutes,” Steratore said. “It will be nonstop from the first jump ball next Thursday to the end of those 10 o’clock games.

“It will be a challenge for all of us working 12-14 hours [a day], but it’s a labor of love. And there’s an excitement to jumping from arena to arena every five minutes and going through this process.”

Gene Steratore Gene SteratoreAP

It’s been a crash course in the television game for Steratore, whose father and brother both have long histories as referees as well. His first season with CBS was well received and included covering the Super Bowl alongside Jim Nantz and Tony Romo. It was a welcomed sight for the network after its first referee hire, Mike Carey, was a disaster from the jump.

Steratore will be able to sympathize with his former colleagues as he watches the tournament unfold, hoping his screen time won’t come at their expense.

“It’s all about handling the pressure and emotional roller coaster of it.,” Steratore said. “The way that a game changes in the emotion of it minute to minute, dealing with high-intensity situations of coaches, players and environments knowing that things may come down to a final decision. Believe it or not, that’s why you really do officiate. All really good officials are doing this to make a decision that one way or the other, will allow the game to finish the way it was meant.”

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