An evolving game left the refs in past

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First off I want to say it’s hard being a referee. There is no praise for doing your job well, and people usually only notice you when you mess up.  Basketball is regarded as among the most difficult sports to officiate due to the fast speed of play, the complexity and various interpretations of rules, and the instantaneous judgment required.

On top off all that in this technological age any referee misstep is magnified ten fold with fans venting their frustration over various platforms and providing near instantaneous video evidence of a missed call.

(Recently a fan made video entitled “Jeremy Lin: Too Flagrant Not to Call” made the rounds highlighting the inconsistency of calls.)

With all of the recent outcry against referees it begs the question: have referees gotten worse or is the technology just making their missteps more apparent? I think it’s both.

The sped up style of play seen in the league today has strained the ability of the refs to keep up and make the correct split second call. Increased number of three-pointers has spread out the floor and taken the focus away from the paint. This strains the field of view the 3 referees have to maintain and allows for potential incorrect no call to occur.

  • In 2004-2005, teams averaged 15.8 three-point attempts. Last season, it was 22.4 threes per game and this season it’s 24.1.
  • Pace, possessions per 48 minutes per team, has increased to 95.8 this season, up from 91.3 in 2011-2012
  • In 2013-2014, teams took 34.6% of their shots in early offense, this is up to 36.9% this season

The proliferation of three-pointers, early offense and different ways to create shots at the rim – a style of offense perfected by the Warriors but used by several teams – has led the league to hire Bob Delaney last season to try and combat this. Delaney, NBA vice president of referee development and training, wants to make subtle but important changes to the way referees position themselves so they have better angles and can make more accurate calls.

Click here for video explaining basic referee positioning

Click here for video showing referee positioning changes for covering early offense

If Delaney keeps up his work referees will hopefully become better prepared for the current style of play.

Along with increased data usage for better ref positioning the league is striving to become more transparent with the implementation of the two-minute reports.  While this is a good step to try and calm outraged fans by clarifying the results or agreeing that there is a missed called. It is still concerning the amount of incorrect no calls that transpire during the last critical moments of games.

While the league is obviously attempting to address their refereeing issue it is also apparent that if they can’t figure out how to more accurately come away with correct calls, especially in critical end game scenarios, it will become a huge liability. Videos like “Jeremy Lin: Too Flagrant Not to Call” with fans directly calling out the league will become a common occurrence. This might result in lost viewership and revenue if the NBA can’t cultivate a culture of objective fairness in their games.

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