An investigator from the Sarpy County (Neb.) Sheriff's Department told The Associated Press on Wednesday he was in his fifth day of working full time looking into Kentucky basketball fans' threats against the Omaha-based game official who worked UK's NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina.
"We are taking this very, very — extremely — seriously," investigatorMatt Barrall told The AP. "Some people might say, 'Oh, it's just a basketball game.' But what if some mentally unstable person decides this is the way to make a name for himself?"
Beginning shortly after Kentucky coach John Calipari criticized the officiating in his team's 75-73 loss March 26 to North Carolina, referee John Higgins' Omaha roofing company was hit with a wave ofharassing emails, phone calls and voice mails —including death threats against Higgins and his family.
Appearing Wednesday on KFAB radio inOmaha, Higginssaid he wouldn't let the overzealous fans' actions affect whether he would continue to call games.
"I'll continue it. It's fun. I'm competitive," he said. "I'll be fine going forward."
According to Barrall, 75 percent of some3,000 phone callsto Higgins' office in the two days after the game were from Kentucky area codes. Moreover, Higgins' roofing company was inundated with bogusnegative online reviews, damaginghis Google rating, and he was forced to take down his business' Facebook page.
"People that on their own wouldn't do something, their social values change when a lot of other people do it, and they decide to join in," Barrall said. "This is the 21st-century version of a mob mentality because of social media."