NBA to use virtual reality to train referees

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While the referees’ union is saying, “perfection is neither possible nor desirable,” the NBA is implementing concrete steps to improve officiating.

NBA release:

The NBA is launching an Officiating Advisory Council to focus on areas of improvement for the officiating program and the future of officiating.  The council will include retired General Martin E. Dempsey, who was the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan; two distinguished former NBA players and current television analysts, Doug Collins and Kenny Smith; and former longtime NBA referee Steve Javie.  The Council will also include current players, coaches and referees who will be named at a later date.

The NBA is also announcing the following steps:

  • Increase the officiating staff by 25 percent within three years, including 10 percent by next season, through a more diverse and comprehensive approach to sourcing and hiring.
  • Use a new, data-driven game review system to create objective referee measurement standards and track progress regarding call accuracy and errors per game over multiple seasons.
  • Leverage technology to develop innovative methods to train officials, including the use of virtual reality.
  • Improve and expand the process by which teams inquire about specific plays or offer input on the officiating program.
  • Install a newly-created postgame survey process for coaches to share officiating feedback in real time.
  • Develop guidelines and establish forums to improve decorum and in-game communications among players, coaches and referees.
  • Introduce a new scheduling system to optimize the chemistry and composition of officiating crews and ensure rest for individual referees.

Yes!

Officiating is difficult, and human errors are inevitable. But good for the NBA doing what it can to minimize those mistakes.

Technology is the league’s best weapon in the fight against missed calls.

Analytics have helped teams discover the value of resting players, and the same is undoubtably true of referees. Easing their workload and reducing travel will produce better officiating.

Comprehensively tracking calls can help identify which type of calls are most commonly gotten correct and incorrect. That can help determine where to target training.

Virtual reality can help train officials through repetition that can’t be easily recreated by humans. Visual/spacial processing should be emphasized, and that’s best done in three dimensions — not two-dimensional video.

But these steps in the right direction shouldn’t be the end. The NBA can still do more with technology, especially during games. Use tracking and timers to handle things like three-second violations and allow referees to focus on the more subjective calls like fouls.