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Last 2 Minute Referee Reform

Referee andy_baker7 via Flickr

NBA

Recently, the National Basketball Referee Association released a report calling for an end to the League’s “Last 2 Minute” reports. Their major claim was that transparency doesn’t change the outcome of a game. While this statement is true, and these reports generally tell a small part of the story, they have become an important part of today’s NBA.

The current format already hurts a team enough simply because nothing can be done about a blown call; however, completely ignoring those calls would make the entire situation worse. The only silver lining at the end of a tough night is a two page report that means absolutely nothing to the final score. What it does do is serve as a tool to keep the NBA honest.

The NBA is not a perfect entity. They make mistakes, and so do their referees. While these reports are an attempt to invite all parties into the inner workings of their referee department, they leave a lot to be questioned each time a report is released. This is done to the frustration of the officials because they too are left in the dark about what exactly is going in when the final two minutes of games are being evaluated.

Although the NBRA would rather the entire process be shut down, they also suggested some improvements to the system that would benefit the League, the referees, and the teams. Those suggestions include transparency throughout the entire review process, a clear interpretation of the rules, and a way for referees to challenge any call the League makes. Of course, this is all for public perception. It would take a great deal for any current official to be fired simply because of a L2M report but that is exactly what the NBRA is trying to fight.

They referees feel as if the public opinion on them is drastically falling because of these reports—and they are correct. Referees are the unsung heroes in the National Basketball Association. While they are all elite at their craft, and correct more often than not, the only thing highlighted by the media, and fans, are their mistakes. This isn’t without reason. It’s easy to point out incorrect calls because they aren’t expected to have any. A referee is a walking encyclopedia, an endless fountain of basketball knowledge. They know all the “ins and outs”, all the nuances, all the unwritten rules. They keep the players in check, and the game flowing. However, one thing most people forget is that they are human.

These playoffs haven’t helped the public perception of referees. Some unfortunate missed calls with the clock winding down, a couple of leg kicks, and all of a sudden the refs are a public enemy. All season long these referees are kept in check by the League Office and are deemed fit to officiate playoff games. In an instant, that all goes down the drain.

This isn’t due to incompetence. For 48 minutes, they are watching some of the greatest athletes in the world dribble a ball up and down a court at blazing speeds. It isn’t hard to imagine why some things go unnoticed. They divvy up the responsibilities between three referees who are tasked with keeping an eye on ten giants. A moving off ball screen or held jersey just isn’t as important as making sure the shooter isn’t fouled or watching to see if a travel is committed. This is generally acceptable behavior on the ref’s part but that all changes when the spotlight gets bright.

The problem is that up until that point, the officials have been doing all they can. The entire game they are make judgement after judgement and have done some of their best work. Once the game clock starts dwindling, they are expected to perform above their capabilities.

The referee doesn’t start working when the clock hits two minutes because they know a report will be coming out judging their calls. They set the tone early and are trying to play a perfect game themselves. Most people don’t notice the missed whistles as much before the fourth quarter because it seems all so small in the grand scheme of things.

Should the game be called by the book? Should they let the players get a little physical? What is excessive? Who is on the court? These are all questions pegging the referees as they watch LeBron power into the lane and take a couple of bumps on the way there. Missed calls need to be forgiven more than they already are due to the weight on their shoulders.

This is not an excuse for the referees. They do still need to be held accountable. This is what makes their suggestions seem like the natural progression in today’s NBA. No reasonable person would expect them to be correct all the time, but pushing them to get to that point isn’t a bad thing. As NBA players develop to be stronger and faster than before, referees need to be able to keep up with that pace. Expanding L2M reports could be a valuable tool in that regard and should be expected to be used that way in the near future.

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