Three suggestions to improving replay

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has a replay problem. It’s arbitrary decisions on what is reviewed and what’s not is flawed. That was no more apparent than in Oklahoma City’s robbery on Friday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped out. There’s no call. Therefore, there was no review. There was only five people in the arena that didn’t know he stepped out: the three officials on the floor (two are watching other areas and the covering official was watching the ball) and the two players involved in the play, Josh Huestis and Antetokounmpo.

This all has to change. As an official, it’s easy to defend the officiating fraternity you’ve been indoctrinated into. You understand basketball is the most difficult sport to officiate, especially if you officiate basketball. You give the benefit as their position is different from the stands or at home. There’s a reason why they’ve climbed the ladder of success. However, you also has to realize there are realistic issues going on. The inconsistencies are unacceptable.

I’m just a high school official. I’ve done some college football. However, for my time as a basketball official, I am only a NFHS official. Same thing for doing softball, just a high school. However, for softball I do a lot of travel ball and probably see better softball throughout the summer than I do within the season. There, that’s my bias. There’s my flaw. However, I’ve been taught two things in all sports:

1) You’re not always right and you have to own up to it when you’re wrong. Go up to the coach and look him in the eye and just tell them, I missed the call. The amount of acceptance from the head coach is dependent on the time of the game. If I blow a call with 27 seconds to go in the game, they’re probably going to lose it. If I do this with 4:29 left in the second quarter, I may get a butt chewing but it’ll go away. You tell them. “I missed it coach. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.” Most of the time it works.

2) You get better. While I’m just a high school official, I know I have to get better. Thank you for HUDL, which finally allows video review at the high school level. When I first started officiating in 2004, there was no video review. You didn’t know you missed unless you requested a copy from the coach and that was still 50/50 if you were getting it.  The video review allows you to see where you can improve or where you were right. Check your ego at the door and get better.

The current crop of NBA officials are full-time. They’re paid a decent salary and are full-time employees of the NBA. They’re officiating all year from the season, to Summer League (younger officials and those trying to break into the league). It’s not like the NFL, where one of the most known head referees, Ed Hoculi is an attorney in Arizona. Joey Crawford, Stafford, and others are officials. That’s their job.

How do they get better? That’s the ultimate question. It has to start with accountability. The NFL has a point system for every call. I’m sure the NBA has their own evaluating system. However, the one thing we can tell from the NFL to the NBA, is sometimes the best officials don’t make the playoffs or a less consistent official makes it to the playoffs or NBA Finals.

When an official is sighted on the L2M report, as Stafford has been in quite a bit despite his 30 years of NBA officiating. The relegation possibility has to be on the table. In the NFL if you continue to make bumbling errors, there are chances you’re removed from crews and someone is called up to take your place. There are numerous officials at the G-League and NCAA level who could replace some of the NBA officials.

Checking your ego at the door is key. While many officials I know, multiple sports and multiple levels, are pretty level in knowing the game is about the players, not us. There are a bunch who definitely feel they are involved in the game. With replay, going to the monitor, checking your ego and getting the call right is the most important thing. Sometimes, it feels as if that’s not the case this season.

So with all of this rambling and non-sense, here are three ways the NBA can improve the replay game

Coach’s Challenges

Currently in the G-League, the coach’s have the ability to challenge a call. Here’s the ruling from the G-League on how that works:

  • The coach’s challenge: The coach’s challenge has been revised so that teams receive only one challenge per game, to be used at any point during regulation or overtime periods.  Only fouls called, goaltending/basket interference and out-of-bounds calls may be challenged.

Essentially under the Coaching Challenge feature, Thunder head Coach Billy Donovan could challenge the call and would have been right.

The G-League implemented this rule years ago and has been tinkering with it for years. At first you could only do it within the fourth quarter or overtime. The review was limited to 75 seconds.

How has the G-League challenges worked? 2W10D has that information:

  • 2015-166: 232 challenges — 75 overturned — 32.3 percent success rate
  • 2016–17: 249 challenges — 81 overturned — 32.5 percent success rate

Just under one out of every three calls were overturned over the past two seasons. We were not able to collect team-by-team data to show those correlations, however this provides a solid picture for the last couple years.

2W10D makes a good point as this could be an improvement on coaching-officiating relations. No more yelling. You only appeal and then you get the call you get.  It’s interesting

Use the Replay Center

The NBA touts this replay center as this legendary place that helps with reviews. Why not go one step further and give them the ability to flag a play? You see this in the NFL. In the final two minutes, the booth can call for a review. While the NBA moves much quicker, you could do this as well.

Limit it to the final two minutes of the half or game. Have an officiating crew back in the replay center watching and being on point for any need for a stoppage. The table can signal the horn for a replay and the game could be stopped. The Head Referee can go to the table while the umpires stay on the court with the teams, keeping coaches from coaching during this point.

The number of officials back in the replay center will need to be increased. There is often one to four officials depending on the game volume. Would need to be even more for this to work. However, this would give more autonomy to the call. Instead of those who  made the call influenced by what they saw, let someone else do it.

Your question then becomes, why even have officials? Because the human element is key. NBA officials are right 98 percent of the time. It’s that two percent that needs work on. The NBA games has evolved and become so fast, an extra set of eyes.

Speaking of adding an extra set of eyes…

Add a fourth official

It doesn’t need to be on the court. This can be injunction with the last point. He’s the one that makes the call on the court and is flagged by Secaucus (the location of the replay center in New Jersey). Once again, you have an impartial set of eyes on the film, making a judgement if there is a need for over turn.

You could put one on the court. The G-League is already experimenting with four and sometimes five officials with games involving the Long Island Net’s games at Barclays last season. Nine games were play with four or five officials.

While we said in the previous point the game is faster. The players are bigger. The game has evolved beyond three officials. The NBA has been known to add officials, but it hasn’t been done since 1988 when the NBA added a third official, citing to the LA Times in 1988:

”The game has become faster and quicker and is being played by bigger people,” said Rod Thorn, then executive vice president of operations, ”and it’s our opinion that an extra pair of eyes would aid in covering the entire court more.”

The current positioning is the lead (end line), slot or center (stands at the free throw line extended), and the trail (has center line responsibility). While this chart says NFHS and NCAA, it’s relatively the same for the Association:

The way the G-League has done it they’ve put a fourth official on the sideline. So, you have three watching everything above the break, where a lot of action happens. This also would provide eyes for that baseline step out the officials missed. Here’s how it looks in an Oklahoma City Blue game earlier this season:

The officials (2, and 4) can slide down a bit to help with backside action and provide support for the single lead official. If they wanted to get fancy, add two lead officials and position the trail, (1 in the image), to the center circle and allow him to go back and forth if needed to cover things, ala a back judge in football.

This could help eliminate some of the need for the replay. An extra set of eyes, allowing for more to be seen. The NBA said in games where there were four officials, there were more fouls called. Which the average fan doesn’t like it but it teaches better defending and play.

All of this is just me rambling about what could work. The NBA said they’re going to mull over messing with the replay selections. Which, Royce Young said nothing could also happen.


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