Four Ways to Improve NBA Officiating

Dave FinocchioSenior Writer INovember 19, 2007

Ah, the NBA regular season: when play is soft, and officials don't dictate the outcome of every game. It's nice while it lasts...

But folks, I'm here to remind you that the postseason starts in just five months.  

That means "playoffs"—the season for inconsistency, make-up calls, blindness, old men running around in zebra suits, and the bottomless pit of human stupidity. 

The NBA has one of best sports or entertainment products on the planet. It showcases the word's best athletes at a proximity unmatched by the other major leagues.

But in its greatest moments, the League is governed by rules so absurd and incomprehensible that they make a mockery of the outcomes of the games themselves.

(See Finals MVP: Wade, Dwyane).

It's time for David Stern to reel in the officiating—and up the quality of his product. Here's a four-step program to help with the process:


1. Phase Out Old Officials

Why does the NBA still employ officials that can't pass a physical?

It's basic logic: calling fouls in the NBA requires great positioning and keen eyesight. Men over 50 lack mobility and vision. Don't retain referees that can't keep up.

Steps for Stern: Negotiate tougher off-season reviews for officials. Include a more thorough physical component. How about some liners? Let's also see a more detailed eye examination.


2. Hire Former College Players

There's a huge talent pool of basketball experts who can keep up with the pace of play—the enormous field of ex-college basketball players.

Steps for Stern: Start a program for former college players who aspire to become officials. Train them. Feed them into the WNBA and the D-League. Promote them when they're ready.


3. Cut the Player/Referee Chit Chat

After every blown whistle in every game of every season, at least one player shares an intimate moment with an official.

There's a prevailing sentiment that the players need feedback from the officials to get a sense of how the game is being called. 

To me, that's a direct admission that the state of NBA officiating is so poor and devoid of standards that players have no consistent notion of what they can and cannot do. This is unacceptable.

Conversations between players and referees lead to make-up calls and favoritism. It's only human nature. 

Make-up calls and manual attempts to "even out" the game are the worst ongoing practices in the NBA—and they need to disappear. 

Steps for Stern: Institute a rule where one player from each team on the court is eligible to speak with a ref during a dead ball. Everyone else must shut their mouths and hear about any and all rule discrepancies from their designated teammate.


4. More Clarity and Conciseness in Officiating Standards 

There's too much variance in the way that games are called.

Certain officiating crews allow more contact. Certain crews are more flexible on zone defense. And so on.

This variability hurts the game. It's common that playoff series' are determined by how much contact an officiating crew wants to allow in a specific game.

Steps for Stern: Enhance training for referees, with an emphasis on standardizing rules and delineating consistent reasons for making calls. Introduce a "video test," where all officials "re-call" random playoff games, assessing the results and eliminating any major departures. 


If the league makes progress in each of these areas, it will vastly improve the quality of the game and increase fan engagement come playoff time. Let's get the discussion started.