Officiating Loose Ball Action

By Referee

There are a few rulings you can make that can affect possession. Rulings such as traveling, three seconds, loose ball fouls and illegal dribble are all officiating decisions that change team possession. For the sake of this article, let’s cover officiating the loose ball on the floor or the 50/50 ball.

Coaches constantly emphasize the importance of winning the 50/50 play. Let’s visualize the Mountaineers versus the Buckeyes. The WVU player dribbles the ball into the front court and the Buckeye defender legally contacts the ball. As the ball rolls along the floor, The WVU player and others aggressively attempt to gain possession. That can be a very complex play for an official. Bodies are diving on the floor in awkward positions; there can be a great deal of contact, much of which can be interpreted as incidental contact.

The most important officiating principle with that play is to be slow with the decision-making process. That is the time to process the play — to see the entire play from start to finish.

That loose ball example can lead to a held ball, a foul or a timeout called by a player who has secured possession.

Possession is so important that most teams are willing to sacrifice a timeout in order to gain or retain it. To do what is best for the game, we should be certain that granting a timeout is not a bailout to avoid a held-ball situation.

If the timeout request and the held ball occur simultaneously, then held ball is the best ruling.

The timeout must clearly come before the held-ball action. At times, the play looks like a “scrum,” thus contact with aggressive players is almost a sure thing.

While officiating the play, only rule a foul that is obvious. The level of contact should call itself before illegal contact is ruled.

Next, let’s cover the principles that are applicable for rebounding plays. Again, officiating rebounding action requires a slow, processed whistle. Great rebounders have physical strength and balance. The great ones understand angles and seem to find themselves in the right place to compete for the ball off the missed shot.

The officials who do a great job of officiating rebounding plays seem to spend time reviewing video and studying techniques. First, officials should always know the position of the ball before making a decision. Next, they must judge the severity of the contact and the effect the contact had on possession of the ball.

If A5 initiates forearm contact on the back of B4 and the ball carries to the opposite side of the floor so B4 cannot secure the rebound, the officials would process the play and rule the contact is legal as the better decision. Now, if that forearm contact is overt and overly aggressive, then a foul is the right ruling no matter what the position of the ball.

As the official reviewing those loose ball plays, ask yourself the following:

Did I know the position of the ball?

Did the consequence of the contact lead to an advantageous position in obtaining possession of the basketball?

Was the contact so severe that it demands a foul being ruled?

Now, let’s address officials’ positioning on the aforementioned plays.

The primary official will be working the ball and the ball defenders. It is important that the non-primary officials obtain a big-picture look, and in doing so, keep a distance so they are able to see as many players as possible. The greater the distance from the action area, the better the chance of seeing the entire play.

The same principle applies to officiating rebounding plays. With basic rebounding coverage, the lead officiates strong side action, the trail covers perimeter and strong side and the center officiates perimeter and weak side coverage areas.

Again, the key is a slow and processed whistle.

As a final reflection, officials need to continue to understand that decisions on loose balls and rebounding, as well as out-of bounds plays, are decisions that result in a new possession. Work to make quality rulings on those plays. Officials demonstrate respect for the game with accurate rulings that help the play.

There is value to each possession.

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