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Wednesday, July 25, 2007
One Good, Quick Referee Fix


Alan Schwarz of The New York Times writes about the state of the NBA's current referee evaluation system.

Access to the evaluation system was clearly limited. Several N.B.A. referees said in interviews this week that they had been frustrated at not receiving data and other specific evidence to explain their tier ratings. They said that their repeated attempts to get hard numbers or see video of specific plays had been rebuffed by Jackson and those working under him.

"They came to me and said my call percentage was down, so I'm like, ‘O.K., which calls did I miss?' " said one veteran referee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were prohibited to speak with the news media. "And Stu said, ‘We can't tell you that.' They won't tell you anything. They just throw a bunch of numbers at you and say, ‘You need to get your percentages up or down.' It's just a big secret."

N.B.A. referees are generally told whether they rate in the top third, middle third or bottom third of various categories, like missed traveling violations. These rankings are used for both hiring and firing decisions, regular-season game assignments and selection for playoff rounds, which are a considerable source of extra income for referees.

Why are those numbers so well-guarded. What's the advantage?

The NBA evaluates many thousands of calls a year. I'm betting the vast majority of those calls are correct, which is admirable. Barry Mano, the head of the National Association of Sports Officials, tells me the latest number for the NBA hovers around the 95-96% mark.

On a high school test, that's an A. If you got a 95% on any test, you should be proud to show the results to the world.

Not only should the referees be able to see the evidence of what they got right and wrong, but as I have written before, so should we all.

Right now there is a vacuum. No one knows how well NBA referees do at their jobs. And the vacuum is increasingly being filled with biased fan opinion, and the results are not good. Give us real evidence to dispel the rumors that this or that referee is atrocious. (And if this or that referee really is atrocious? You know what to do ...) Share the evidence that you already collect, if not with everyone then at least with a broad panel of experts who are free to talk to the press. We need some sunshine in there, especially if the existing NBA referees are excellent. Let them show off a little.