I'll be the Referee tonight!

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

So every night we as a team must decide who it the Referee. An number of factors are to be considered.

First is the experience level of the crew, if it is a veteran crew and one that works together often, that crew might have established either a rotation amongst them or a set position assignment. Either works well for them and is acceptable.

If it is a crew, and we often see this, that has a varied level of experience or one that is "breaking" in an official with limited experience. The veteran on the crew should take the lead and become the Referee. It is also showing respect to that official. It is an opportunity to take their experience and use it as a positive learning experience to show their Junior partner the "Right Way" to handle a game, especially in those difficult situations that may occur. Also we as officials usuallly have a handle on the expected intensity level of our game or a history of the opponents.

In that situation veteran leadership might be crucial!

With that being said, How does the official who is "breaking" in get the experience of being the Referee and learning how to handle a game? The veteran official should analyze the expected intensity level and the history of the opponents. If they see their game that night as another classroom experience, it could be the moment to let the junior official gain valuable training for this very important aspect of officiating. The veteran is not going to let anything happen if something out of the ordinary occurs and should step in and assist. The veteran should offer advice, but try to let the Referee handle that situation. It does the crew no harm to use the wisdom of your experience to help guide the junior official, in fact it is a great learning situation that should help them for years to come.

Here is a list of the Referee's authority and duties as covered in Rule 2. We should be an authority on this aspect of that rule.


The referee must make decisions on any points not specifically covered in the rules.


The referee must: ART. 1 . . . Inspect and approve all equipment, including court, baskets, ball, backboards, and scorer’s and timer’s signals. ART. 2 . . . Designate the official timepiece and official timer prior to the scheduled starting time of the game. ART. 3 . . . Designate the official scorebook and official scorer prior to the scheduled starting time of the game. NOTE: A state association may authorize use of supplementary equipment to aid in game administration. ART. 4 . . . Be responsible for having each team notified three minutes before each half is to begin. ART. 5 . . . Verify with the head coach, prior to each contest, that his/her team member’s uniforms and equipment are legal and will be worn properly, and that all participants will exhibit proper sporting behavior throughout the contest.


The referee must: ART. 1 . . . Designate the official to toss the ball in the center restraining circle for all jump-ball situations. ART. 2 . . . Administer the alternating-possession throw-in to start the second, third and fourth quarters. ART. 3 . . . Decide whether a goal must count if the officials disagree. ART. 4 . . . May declare the game a forfeit when conditions warrant. ART. 5 . . . Decide matters upon which the scorer and timer disagree and correct obvious timing errors. ART. 6 . . . Confer with the official scorer at halftime to determine the possession arrow is pointed in the proper direction to begin play in the third quarter. ART. 7 . . . Check and approve the score at the end of each half. ART. 8 . . . Inform each team and the table officials of the overtime procedures when the score is tied at the end of regulation time.

It doesn’t matter how many years of experience an airplane pilot might have … before EACH and EVERY flight the “pilot in charge” reviews a comprehensive checklist before even firing up the engines or taxiing out onto the runway. Even if they have flown thousands of times before in the same aircraft, with the same co-pilot … they still take the time to do their “pre-flight checks” to increase the likelihood of a smooth and uneventful journey. While a basketball game might not require the same meticulous and rigid checks and balances it does merit a methodical approach to preparing the crew for any eventual situations and problems on the court.

Here’s my take on a solid pregame discussion.

  • The “R” Takes the Lead: If you are assigned as the Referee (or crew chief) it’s YOUR responsibility to lead the pregame discussion. Take this as responsibility above and beyond the normal game assignment. Just as the referee (typically) will toss the ball to start the game – you should initiate the pregame / locker room talk as well. If the “R” fails to initiate that conversation — you (as a crew member) prompt them – gently and appropriately. “Hey Mr. / Ms. R, what types of things should we discuss before going out there tonight,” might be a good way to start that dialogue.

  • Five Minutes is Better than None: While I truly believe a good pregame takes about ten minutes to be covered properly – if you only have a few minutes, take advantage of them and use it wisely. It’s better to prioritize a few key items than walk onto the court without any discussion. If only five minutes, make sure to talk about the big items – like PCA’s, line coverages, last second shots, etc.

  • Don’t Go By Memory: Pilots use checklists … and so should you. You should not be embarrassed by pulling out your favorite list that can be quickly reviewed by the crew. Some folks have long multi-page documents and others have 3×5 cards with a few key items. IAABO provides a nice laminated card to our members each year. The one that I use is a hybrid from the IAABO card and items that I feel are important.

Be Visual: Whether it’s a chalkboard in the locker room, a small magnetic board, or a dry-erase coaching board — make sure to “visually” discuss important areas of concern. Most pregame cards have a small court diagram already incorporated into them. (see sample above) Using a couple of pennies to represent your crew on these court diagrams and moving them around can really help the less experienced officials understand positioning and line coverage.

  • Make it an Open Dialogue: While the Referee should lead this discussion it’s not just all about him / her and in a dictator mode. It’s about a collaborative and stimulating conversation between crew members. If you decide (for some special reason) to deviate from the standard mechanics then you must communicate that during the pregame discussion. Allow your partner(s) to contribute to this discussion by asking questions and their viewpoint on various topics.

To make this a bit easier …

The key takeaway here is … the crew should ALWAYS have some type of pregame discussion based on the situation and time allowed. And as the Referee … it’s your job to initiate that discussion

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