For his day job, he sells beer and other beverages, but once November rolls around, he puts on a different shirt. A striped shirt.
Dave Cronin is an Orland Park resident who works as an NCAA basketball referee. He’s entering 13th season at the Division I level, but he has a total of 18 years of referee experience.
He refs in several conferences during any given season, including the junior college circuit in Illinois, the Great Lakes Valley Conference, the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, the Mid-American Conference, the Horizon League, the Summit League and, saving the best for last, ... the Big Ten.
So, how exactly does one become a referee?
According to Cronin, it’s about who you know and getting exposure in camps.
“I worked park district games, and then I met the right people," he said. "They told me about the camp scene. You also have to have the league or conference assigners see you and like your work. It’s just like high school baseball and basketball exposure camps for college recruiting."
Referees often are thrust into dramatic situations, but sometimes, just like players on a losing bench, Cronin admits to watching the clock and wanting a game to be over.
There was one game, however, that sticks out in his mind that he never wanted to end. It was Jan. 9, 2010, in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. Tubby Smith was the Golden Gophers' coach and the Buckeyes were coming off their 2009 championship run under Thad Matta. Oh, and Evan Turner, the NBA’s second overall pick in 2010 (Philadelphia), was starting at guard for the Buckeyes.
It was Cronin’s Big Ten debut.
“I was on cloud nine," he said. "It was just unreal. It was in the 'Barn,' which was built in 1902. The stadium was packed, and it was just an amazing atmosphere. I had chills whole game."
How about those fans that harass the referees?
“You can’t have rabbit ears," Cronin said. "Whatever people say has to go in one and out the other. At smaller arenas, you hear more at games.
"For example, at Illinois Wesleyan, a group of students show up in referee jerseys. I will talk to them and they will stay off me. I can’t worry about what the coaches say. All I can do is make good calls.
"You’re always going to miss call, just like getting ticket when you drive. As long as you trust your partners to work in their triangles and not reach over, you will be fine. I just worry about what I can control and hopefully I make the right call.
"It’s hard to become a referee, but it’s very easy to get out, especially if you miss a rules call on a double-technical foul.”
Cronin prefers the bigger stadiums where 19,000 to 20,000 people will come out to cheer on their teams. He also has called games where maybe 100 people show up.
“That’s when you hear everything and stuff echoes,” he said.
So, can he watch college basketball on TV? And what does he watch?
"I love college basketball," Cronin said. "I will often watch the refs more than game, but growing up, I just watched the game. Now, if I’m home during the season, I’m watching college hoops. I like to see what the other referees do and see what I can add."
Speaking of being on television, Cronin prefers to not be on TV, but of course with cable, it happens a lot, but it gives his family a chance to watch.
He once was a baseball standout. He played at Andrew in the early-1980s. Later, he played for Gordie Gillespie at the University of Saint Francis. He was invited to spring training with the White Sox, Cardinals and Royals, but his baseball career didn’t pan out.
Baseball came to him from his father, who played in the White Sox farm system in 1939. Like so many other men in that time, Cronin’s father’s baseball career was cut short by being drafted into World War II.
Cronin makes his home in Orland Park with his wife, Patty, and their three sons. Cronin’s two eldest sons referee hockey and basketball games. The family often will travel along to bigger games in the Chicago area.