Referees miss calls because there’s too much happening simultaneously.
The NBA wants to try giving each ref a little less to watch, starting with a D-League experiment.
The NBA Development League will experiment with four- and five-person officiating crews for nine games this season, it was announced today. The nine-game trial, which is being conducted by NBA and NBA D-League Referee Operations, will begin on Dec. 26 when the Westchester Knicks face the Long Island Nets at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The initiative will allow the NBA to gather live-game data on the larger officiating crews, continuing its use of the NBA D-league for research and development.
“We are committed to finding ways to better serve our game and provide the highest levels of training for our officials,” said Bob Delaney, NBA Vice President, Referee Operations & Director of Officials. “We are confident in how our three-person system works and are constantly thinking of ways to improve our game. The four- and five-referee initiative is a prime example of that focus and will help the NBA with research and development. The NBA D-League provides the perfect opportunity to conduct this test.”
The four-person experiments will be run in two configurations. The first will feature two officials in the lead position and two split between the slot and the trail. The second is highlighted by two officials in the slot position with the additional two as a trail and a lead, respectively. In the five-person tests, the existing three-person system will rotate typically with the two additional officials taking lead stationary positions on each end of the court. The testing comes on the heels of similar experimental four-person crews tested during the 2016 Utah Jazz Summer League.
The full slate of games in the trial will take place at Barclays Center and will feature the Long Island Nets and nine different NBA D-League Eastern Conference opponents between Dec. 26 and March 19. The first five scheduled experimental games will be officiated by four referees, while the remaining four contests will feature five-person crews.
The initiative is the latest test conducted for the NBA by the NBA D-League, which has experimented with rules changes, technological advancements and equipment research. Among the experimental rules being utilized in the NBA D-League this season are the Coach’s Challenge, the Reset Timeout and a three-minute overtime period.
This is a step in the right direction. The less referees have to watch and run, the easier time they’ll have getting calls right.
But while adding human eyes helps, the league should think bigger. The NBA should focus on leveraging technology to improve officiating.
For example, the league can track the location of players and the ball on the court. Automate three-second violations. If referees didn’t have to watch for that, they could focus on more subjective calls like fouls and ideally get those correct more often.