Big 12 Basketball

Why John Higgins, Basketball Officials Hustle From Game to Game

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Texas

For Big 12 basketball fans, referee John Higgins is a fixture, whether fans like him or hate him. He seems to call every Big 12 game they watch.

This week, for instance, Higgins called both of the league’s Top 25 matchups — Baylor at Texas on Monday and Kansas State at Kansas on Tuesday.


If fans watched Monday’s game, they received a slice of Higgins’ travel schedule the past week. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Before the Texas-Baylor game, Higgins had one day off, which was Friday. The Stanford-Purdue trip drew extra attention because the Cardinal game was in the evening on Saturday and the Purdue game was on Sunday afternoon, which didn’t leave much time for Higgins to hustle from the west coast to the Midwest.

So why on earth would Higgins travel that much just to officiate college basketball? I mean he must love it, right?

He might also like the pay, too.

Matt Norlander of CBS Sports picked up on the conversation and provided a template for what basketball officials get paid at Higgins’ level. Norlander points out that, no matter your opinion of Higgins, he is well regarded among the game’s coaches, which is part of the reason he officiates this many games.

But, again, the money.

There is a pay scale, per Norlander, for Power 6 conferences (that’s the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Big East, the Pac-12 and the SEC). It’s an average of $3,700 per game, whether it’s a conference game or not. Officials do have to cover their expenses. The pay rate is the same for league tournaments, per Norlander.


In the NCAA Tournament, officials get $2,500 for first- and second-round games, $3,000 for regionals and $3,500 for the Final Four. Once it gets to March Madness, the NCAA picks up the officials’ expenses.

So Norlander did the math. An official like Higgins, who is well-regarded and wants to hustle from one town to the next, could officiate at least 90 games per season. Assuming an official like Higgins works all the way through the Final Four, it could mean $330,000 before taxes and expenses.

Sometimes, the explanation for something is as easy as following the money.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

To Top