Referees are some of the most criticized and scrutinized people in the world of sports, and it is no less different in the NBA. Referees have an important job; to keep the game under control. Many referees are harshly criticized and rarely praised, but that’s how important their job is: even one incorrect call can swing the momentum of the game. Referees should not leave their impact on the game, but rather interfere only when necessary: to ensure that referees are up to the task, the NBA reviews referees constantly.
How are NBA referees reviewed? One of the most important aspects of a referee’s performance review is the accuracy of calls. Each game, league reviewers look at the game and assign correct calls, incorrect calls, and no-calls to the referee responsible for them. The NBA also looks at referee qualities such as communication, confidence, ability to work in a 3-man crew, knowledge of the rule book, and lack of potential corruption. If a referee’s performance is consistently below par, they are put on notice and given 1 year to improve performance or become dismissed.
What is the NBA referee performance review process?
The NBA referee performance review process is an extensive and exhaustive process, with several objectives. The process is one facet of the larger referee training and development program the NBA has put in. The goals of NBA referee performance reviews include judging the accuracy of calls, recognizing trends in performances and data, creating material for further referee training and development, and providing teams with insight on officiating for their games.
Once an NBA game is completed, the game tape is sent to league reviewers, who are independent of the officiating office, in the fact that these reviewers are not referees. These reviewers are carefully selected in order to remove any bias, but are ensured to have an appropriate level of basketball knowledge in order to do their job. These league reviewers pore over the game tape, and look at any and all events which can result in an infraction (which would require intervention from the referee), and label each event as one of the four following “tags”: infraction, no infraction, potential infraction (judgment call, can be labeled as leaning towards infraction or towards no infraction), and enhanced review (a call that a referee is highly unlikely to see in real time, and could only be identified through enhanced review).
Beyond just identifying whether an infraction has occurred or not, league reviewers are also looking to identify which referee is responsible for which call. Each event is assigned to the appropriate referee. Once this process has happened, the game is re-reviewed by supervisors of the league reviewers. The game review process usually takes 12-16 hours; on average, a review takes 6-8 hours, and also occurs twofold (once by reviewer, once by supervisor).
The game review process is concerned mostly with the accuracy of the referees, but the extensive data that is processed has several uses. For example, the NBA sends call-by-call reports of the game review to the teams involved in the game, where they can choose to dispute a call if need be. The biggest use of the data processed from game reviews is to aid in referee training and development. The NBA’s program for referee training and development uses this data to identify trends: what infractions are being called incorrectly with more frequency, what is the cause of missed calls, is there any noticeable bias, etc. For example, the program noticed that if a referee was placed one foot wider than their normal position, they could catch a lot more calls that they were missing due to poor visibility.
The game review tape is made available to referees in a portal, where they can extensively look at the general officiating. The portal is key in the training and development of referees, in order for them to get a better understanding of what is a correct and incorrect call in game scenarios, and ultimately improving their performance. The portal is also used by management to keep an eye on things as well as a hub for daily officiating operations.
The game review process is primarily focused on accuracy of calls, and not particularly referee performance; that is the responsibility of the NBA and not the league reviewers. While accuracy is a major aspect of referee performance review, other factors such as consistency, communication, confidence, ability to effectively work in a 3-referee crew, lack of bias and corruption, and more are decisive when NBA reviews referees.
This review of referees applies to different scenarios: when looking at which referees to promote to the NBA (for example, from the G League). It is also applicable when choosing referees for the NBA Playoffs and the NBA Finals. In general, if referees are not deemed to be meeting standards, they are put on notice that they need to improve their performance within 1 year. Referees then usually partake in training and development on their own (often using the game review portal), and if they don’t meet standards after 1 year, they are dismissed from their position. Being an NBA referee is a tough job. The game of basketball in the NBA is played at an extremely fast pace, and a lot of fouls have a level of subjectivity to them. On top of that, many players are perfecting the art of “selling” the call or even flopping to deceive referees. The toughness of the job, as well as the amount of pressure and scrutiny it requires, means that being a referee requires a strong resolve and extreme skill. It is the job of the NBA to ensure that referees are always held to a high standard, by continually reviewing their performances. It is also the responsibility of referees to always try to improve their performance, at the very least to save their jobs. Being a referee is tough, but that doesn’t mean incompetency can be overlooked, because it will ultimately hurt the NBA in all facets.