- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2017

The NBA is counting on two things to make its officiating better: technology and transparency.

Thursday, it announced the formation of an officiating advisory council to focus on improvement and the future of officiating in the league. The council, and multiple steps suggested by the league to improve things, are a result of a six-month review of the officiating program by the NBA’s president of league operations, Byron Spruell.

The advisory council will be a mix NBA people and two major non-sports names. 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; former NBA players and current television analysts, Doug Collins and Kenny Smith; and former longtime NBA referee Steve Javie. The council will also add current coaches, players and referees at a later date.

Here is the list of steps the NBA plans on taking:

  • 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.

Let’s break down some of these ideas from league-speak to what they may actually mean.

Clearly, the league is concerned about referees being overworked. They travel a ton, there is only so big of a crew, and like players, they become fatigued. Expanding the workforce and reducing travel would be beneficial.

A lot of this has to do with optics. Frothing, screaming coaches and players are a bad look during a game. Same with players. Mentioning “decorum” here means the league is in pursuit of less in-game combativeness between all factions. It makes for a cleaner product. Accomplishing it is another story.

For years, teams have been able to reach out to the league about officiating. Creating a more streamlined process for that would make sense. The development of a new postgame survey for “feedback in real time” would interesting to read. What would Wizards coach Scott Brooks say to the league in “real time” after his team shoots one free throw and the other teams shoots 20 in the same span on the Wizards’ homecourt? How about when John Wall plays 40 minutes and shoots zero free throws, as was the case against Golden State on Monday? At the least, the Wizards need to keep Wall away from that survey.

One other interesting note was slid into the bottom of the league’s announcement about the formation of the council, when it mentioned prior actions taken in pursuit of the same goal: “In other moves to increase transparency, the NBA added referee names alongside calls in official play-by-play reports and now shares play-by-play reports detailing all calls and material non-calls that occur in the last two minutes.”

That’s a reference to the league’s last 2-minute reports, which have drawn the ire of the official Twitter account for NBA referees. As recently as Feb. 28, they heartily disputed the league’s conclusion on one of the reports. The referees’ association wants them to go away. Based on the league deciding to tout them in this report, that does not appear to be happening.

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