If you live in ACC country and you follow college basketball, chances are you have some strong opinions about a man named Karl Hess. And chances are, those opinions are negative. Hess is a referee (the same way that Napoleon was in the military), one that was always destined for the grandest stages and the brightest lights. Karl Hess is notorious. Karl Hess is infamous. Karl Hess is KING.
His modus operandi is simple: stealing the spotlight in any and every game he officiates, and making blatantly awful calls in huge situations. His style is so controlling and aesthetically depressing that we're all compelled to notice the man in black and white. Now and again, he pulls off truly spectacular stunts. There was the incident in Raleigh, for instance, when he ejected N.C. State legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the premises for heckling him. In that case, even the head of ACC officials admitted Hess was wrong. This year, Hess managed to line up UConn and Marquette facing the wrong direction at the start of overtime, incorrectly disallowing a UConn basket in a game Marquette would go on to win.
And then Hess (somehow) earned himself a Final Four assignment. When he took the court for Louisville–Wichita State, even I knew something amazing would happen. Cardinal fans were well aware of Hess's legend, having watched him give Rick Pitino a technical for yelling at his own player in the Elite Eight last season. The Shockers were less familiar, but that wouldn't last long.
At first, King Karl helped the underdogs out, combining with Les Jones to call an incredibly tight game that disrupted any possibility of flow, producing a disjointed, ugly mess, and making it difficult for Louisville to play its trademark pressing defense. (I wish we could somehow find stats for things like, "How many potential college basketball fans were lost in the first hour of Saturday's game?") Wichita ran up a 12-point lead with great defense and solid execution on the press break. But just when things looked really bad for the Cardinals, they made their run.
And that's when Hess went from merely ruining the game to becoming its main attraction. It began when he called a bizarre double foul on Louisville's Stephan Van Treese and Wichita's Ron Baker after it looked like Van Treese hit Baker in the face. That changed the possession arrow and set the stage for Hess's tour de force: a jump-ball call with six seconds left when Baker, his team down three, briefly lost control of the ball and tussled for perhaps three or four milliseconds with Luke Hancock before recovering it. As Gary Parrish noted, the whistle was far too quick, but nothing on the court happens so quickly that it can escape Hess's whistle. The arrow belonged to Louisville because of the double foul, and instead of having a chance to tie with a late 3, Wichita watched Russ Smith seal the game from the line.
If the Shockers thought they could escape the wrath of King Karl, they were dead wrong. But there was a silver lining to the one-man terror show — the Twitterverse was raging against Hess all night, holding him accountable with a mix of bile, humor, and a sort of desperate, furious frustration. Here were the 50 best Hess-themed tweets of the night, starting with an incredible bit of prescient foreboding on Saturday morning.
No Dream Is So Awful That It Can't Come True
Morning irrationality/fear: Karl Hess will call a UofL Final Four game. — J. Andrew Johnson (@jandrewjohnson) April 6, 2013
On the biggest stage of college basketball, Karl Hess is officiating this game. Is the NCAA openly trolling with officials now? — Brendan Bures (@BrenBures) April 6, 2013
First Pitbull. Now Karl Hess. Why are they trying to ruin my Final Four? — @BarkingCarnival (@BarkingCarnival) April 6, 2013
Can someone explain how Karl Hess got a Final Four assignment? Please? — Luke Jackson (@luke_jackson10) April 6, 2013
I wake up. I see that Karl Hess is a ref for the game. The stomach immediately churns. This is the Final Four. — Chris Stone (@ChrisStone01) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess drives on the wrong side of the road. — Weather Moose (@WXMoose) April 6, 2013
The one thing that makes me most nervous about this game is Karl Hess. Without him, Louisville wins going away. Closer game with his help — Sue Buckner (@UofLfanatic) April 6, 2013
KARL HESS.WHY DO WE GET KARL HESS?/guzzles rot gut whiskey — Ryanl #ECG (@hammel11) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess and Les Jones are working the game. *grabs popcorn* — Josh Graham (@JoshGrahamECU) April 6, 2013
The Game Begins
Karl Hess should officiate daycare. — lauren ho (@laurenho12) April 6, 2013
And the wind cried "Karl Hess" and then just called every fucking foul it could. — edsbs (@edsbs) April 6, 2013
Ed Rush likes Karl Hess's moxie. — Brian Floyd (@BrianMFloyd) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess is a beast! Unstoppable! — Mike McAllister (@McAllisterOnFox) April 6, 2013
NCAA official Karl Hess forgot to use static guard. Pants stuck to legs. — Todd Kroh (@hogntheroad) April 6, 2013
The good news is that Louisville is going to come into the ACC with the hating Karl Hess thing already mastered. — Carolina March (@carolinamarch) April 6, 2013
“Lol Karl Hess” -ACC fans… “WTF?!?” -The rest of the country… Welcome to our nightmare America — LCo (@leocolomer) April 6, 2013
The Incredible Predictive Power of Mankind
calling it now. Karl Hess will make a controversial call with less than 10 seconds to go to give one team the lead and the win — Jason Jordan (@jjordan28) April 6, 2013
I wonder how long it will take for Karl Hess to make this game about him. — Vu Pham (@vutylicious) April 6, 2013
The way this is shaping up, the finish is playing right into the hands of Karl Hess — Ben Swain (@thedevilwolf) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess is stretching his whistle right about now. — JP (@Joey_Powell) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess is the freaking devil. — Mark Ennis (@Mengus22) April 6, 2013
The Double Foul
Double foul?! Karl Hess, you dog — Run the Floor (@RunTheFloor) April 6, 2013
Wow...so that double foul is what cost Wichita St the last jump ball call. Nice going. — Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) April 6, 2013
If Karl Hess was an NFL ref, he'd call holding on every play, against both teams. — Karl Kirkwood (@truthfromduluth) April 6, 2013
A Moment of Sympathy?
Does any ref get as much slander as Karl Hess? lmao — The Silent Assassin (@SilentAssassinM) April 6, 2013
The Legend Emerges: Jump Ball
And now Wichita State knows the legend that is Karl Hess. — Charles Boyer (@TheOldManPar) April 6, 2013
I guess its not really surprising that Karl Hess decided the game. At least he had the teams going the right direction? — Jason (@jlublin84) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess gonna Karl Hess — Spenser Ogden (@yankees533) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess never lets Karl Hess down. — Catherine Nicholson (@CatNickery) April 6, 2013
Since Louisville isn't cutting the nets down, that means Karl Hess will, right? — Josh Graham (@JoshGrahamECU) April 6, 2013
What, you thought a mid-major could hang with Karl Hess? Please — Run the Floor (@RunTheFloor) April 6, 2013
Silly Wichita State, you thought you could tangle with Karl Hess and live to tell about it? — A.J Black (@BCHysteria) April 6, 2013
A Self-Loathing Wake Forest Fan Chimes In
Karl Hess just Bzdelik'd the NCAAt. That guy is the worst. — Kevin Rust (@BallStateDeac) April 6, 2013
Karl Hess blew a Final Four game? He once winked at me. And had a team shoot free throws on the wrong end of the floor. Couldn't be worse — Ryan McRae (@RyanCMcRae) April 7, 2013
World leader for a day: Karl Hess, Kim Jong Un, and a barrel of cole slaw are being strung together and launched at the Moon — Donny Andrews (@dandrews66) April 6, 2013
The Best Tweet From Game 2
Syracuse really needs Karl Hess to step up right now. — Joe Ovies (@joeovies) April 6, 2013
The Existential Grand Finale
And we've been dealing with Karl Hess forever — Aaron Vodicka (@AaronVodicka) April 7, 2013