Nobody can argue at how exciting this season of the National Basketball League has been. From shock result to shock result, week after week, it has been close to, if not the tightest race to the finals in the history of the competition. There is one thing though that is holding it back and that is the standard of officiating. Everybody can plainly see it, is clearly talking about it and it needs addressing.
Consistency in decisions is a major want for both fans and players alike in the sporting world. You do not necessarily have to agree with an interpretation, but if it has been made consistently across every game, you learn to live with it.
On Saturday night at Titanium Security Arena, we saw Adelaide 36ers coach, Joey Wright ejected from the game after receiving two technical fouls in the space of a minute. Now, Wright’s attitude in this particular situation towards the referees was not great, nobody is arguing that, but based on what NBL coaches have been allowed to get away with this year, Wright’s ejection was mightily unfair.
Perth coach Trevor Gleeson is another culprit who can clearly be heard prowling the sidelines and constantly verbally abusing referee decisions. Melbourne United boss Dean Demopoulos is also very animated in his discussions with the officials. Neither have been ejected this season and neither at times, have behaved in a better manner than what Wright did on Saturday night.
There is no clear line in the NBL as to what the coaches can and cannot do when questioning a decision. And let’s be honest, that is pretty much every call made. This makes it particularly tricky to officiate, which is partially the issue at play. Why do referees need to talk to coaches at all during games? At times all it does is incite the situation and it certainly does not seem to calm coaches down. Perhaps it is time that the questioning of decisions was done behind closed doors after a game. If coaches do not adhere to these rules, hit them with technical fouls and remove them from the game. They will soon get the idea. There is not too many sports in the world where players or coaches can walk up to an official, demand an explanation and then both leave agreeing to disagree. It just simply is not a good look and more to the point, it is clearly not having the desired outcome.
The separate, but related issue that has faced the NBL this season is that the decision making of referees has been hard to follow. There is no clear consistency within games and certainly not from game to game. If the competition wants to continue to go from strength to strength, clear explanation of interpretations is something that will need to be reviewed moving forward.
The ability to go back and look at the tape in the last two minutes of every game is good in theory, but it is more often than not taking way too long. Basketball is a stop, start game as it is and there is no need for it to be held up any longer. Besides which, there are incidents that happen during periods of the game that cannot be reviewed that have just as much influence than a decision made in the closing stages of a quarter. There have been several games this year with questionable decision making, but again using Adelaide’s clash with the Breakers as an example, where in the last ninety seconds, Adelaide were called for a cross court pass, asked for it to be reviewed and had that turned down. As it turns out replays showed, albeit closely, that the referee decision was wrong and had they reviewed, it would most likely have been overturned. The review system is not the answer for basketball.
The answer lies in having more full time referees for a start. There is currently two full time referees across the competition and that number must be increased to five. The more full time people studying and spending their weeks promoting and understanding the game, the better. Having referrers with a broader knowledge of rules and interpretations will flow down to the part timers and overall bring the standard up.
Season 2016/17 of the NBL has been a brilliant one. At this point, picking a winner is still next to near impossible. Nobody enjoys criticising referees, because without them we would not have a game at all. You can criticise the environment that has been placed around them and the conditions they have to work in, because fixing that will go a long way in improving the standard.
Picture – Sydney Morning Herald