How to improve NBA Playoff Officiating

Note:This was written BEFORE the playoffs started. It wasnt posted till after I had presented this to the league. I stand corrected on the lack of 4 games in a night. There have been. THat doesnt change the validity of the concept. Rather than using the playoffs as an opportunity to promote officials, it should be where only the very best officials work.

I have also turned off comments because as I feared, they end up being off topic.

Here is the post:

Refs miss calls. Its part of the game. Better refs that approach the game objectively miss fewer calls.

During the regular season new refs will come into the league and as might be expected, there will be ups and downs that come with new officials.

The playoffs are different. THe playoffs are where teams and the NBA itself earn their money. Its where team profits are made, its where TV ratings are made and when TV ratings are good, the league makes more money.

In other words, the playoffs are our money product. As with every business, the best people should be on the job with the money products. Thats not the way the NBA does it when it comes to officials.

In the first round, the NBA reduces the number of officials elgible to officiate games from about 60 to 33 (give or take a couple). The first question is how did they arrive at that number ? I dont know, but I can calculate how many officials are actually needed.

In the first round, there 4 series in each conference or 8 series in total.

But the thing about the first round is that the games are spread out. There rarely if ever are 4 games in a single night. ( it hasnt happened since i have been here). The most I have seen is 3 games in a night. 3 games in a night is 9 officials.

But when you look at the schedule further, you realize that because of time zones and TV needs, you never get more than 2 games in the same time zone. Which means that its not unreasonable to ask officials to work games on back to back nights in the first round of the playoffs. THey can travel to the next assigned game in the same or at worst adjoining time zone. Because of the spread out schedule, its unlikely they would work back to backs more than twice in the first round.

So in the first round alone, the number of officials that should be assigned could be as few as 9, plus 3 alternates.

Would the officiating improve if the top12 officials worked the games instead of the top 33 or so. There is absolutely no question about it.

Would it strain the officials more to possibly work a back to back ? Yes. So pay them a bigger bonus for being selected for the playoffs. Its certainly no more a strain on the officals than it is the players and we have no problem asking players to work back to back.

The numbers get better for the 2nd round. 4 series.2 games in a day. Sometimes 1 game in a day. Thats 6 officials plus alternates. If the league was absolutely convinced we have 12 finals quality officials, then use 12

But the NBA has a huge problem. It doesnt view the playoffs as a place where the very best of the best of officials go to work. It views the playoffs as part of a reward system for officials. YOu get promoted to the playoffs. Its not unusual to see an official work a single playoff game in the first round. In fact, if the info i have is correct, there are officials who havent even been promoted to full time crew cheif who get playoff assignments. How crazy is that ?

Thats alsoa huge, huge, huge business mistake. The playoffs are our most important, most visible product. They should never be used as a stepping stone for promotion.

Instead, the NBA should rank its officials, seed them if you will. Top 12 get playoff assignments. Thats it. If an official does a great job and rises to the top 12, he or she gets the reward. If not, not.

Giving less qualified officials an opportunity to officiate playoff games as a reward gives the official a nice attaboy, but it risks the quality of our product.

It makes absolutely no sense to do it the way it is currently done. If the league wants the best officiating in every game, only use the best officials. Anything less cheats us all.

3 thoughts on “How to improve NBA Playoff Officiating

  1. I certainly agree that there is an hierarchy of referee ability in any sport. Why not try to improve the ability of the referee pool, in that way we might be able to chose from the top 20… There are many things that go into making an excellent referee including knowledge of the game, reflexes, physical fitness, vision, and demeanor. Some of these we can control, and some we can’t. We can certainly improve a ref’s vision, as I have publically offered before, I will provide free LASIK surgery on any NBA ref that is deemed a good candidate and needs it. Maybe Mark Cuban can do his part and fly these refs to me on his jet for their treatment!

    Comment by Cary Silverman -

  2. I am on the brink of boycotting the NBA due to the dramatic discrepancies in officiating from game to game and more importantly, team to team. I would like to know, how can I voice me displeasure to the NBA commissioner, and how can we as fans band together to force the NBA to acknowledge our opinions and put a better product on the floor? Thanks a lot for your help.

    Comment by gary -

  3. The problem with NBA officiating is far deeper than just which ones call the game and whether or not they should have to call games on back to back nights. Referees, from the Dick Bevetta to Joe Blow, try way too hard to have an impact on the game. There are too many times where a call is made to either set the tone for the game or make up for a missed call from earilier. Referees have the ability to impact a game at great lengths because of the way games are officiated. The generally loose nature of the way traveling, lane violations, over-the-backs, and palming(not to mention all the grabbing and pushing that goes on seemingly unnoticed) makes it easy for each referree to make his own distinct style of how he wants to call the game. That doesn’t even go into the fact that marquee players get EVERY call.

    So with all of that said, the system is set up so that NBA officials have a lot of freedom to call the game to their own liking which makes it subject to criticism for those who don’t feel the same way about a particular rule or situation. If the officials would get together and agree that they are all going to call the game the same way then it wouldn’t be so bad a deal. Obviously, yes officials will still miss calls but at least everyone would be be in agreement on what the right call should have been. I know there is a rule book that has all that, but honestly tell me they don’t regularly take more than two steps or jump in the lane early on nearly every free throw.

    The NBA can’t even agree on what constitutes being suspended and not being suspended. I am still in shock that Reggie Evans wasn’t suspended for his grabbing of Chris Kaman’s manhood. If Ron Artest had done that he would be out of the league, and then you turn right around and suspend someone known as a pretty good guy, Raja Bell, for a tough foul on Kobe Bryant, which I will admit was worthy of suspension but not more so than the action of Evans. I guess the league felt it was more important to protect Kobe Bryant than it was Chris Kaman. Can you imagine if Reggie Evans had done the same thing to Kobe Bryant? I doubt the situations would have been handled the same, which leads me back to my point in the first place.

    If you leave things open for their own interpretation then, amazingly, things will be interpreted differently. All people have different opinions or philosophies on how the game should be played so don’t be surprised when different officials do things completely different. It’s not the officials fault, for them it is no different than coaches with different systems. Think about it for a second, all coaches have the same basic principles(score points, play good defense, make free throws, rebound the basketball, and win a championship) but there are currently 30 different head coaches trying to do all those things 30 different ways. Just a thought…

    Comment by Ron Jumper -

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