Getting Calls Right Comes at a Price

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterJuly 20, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  Head coach Scott Skiles of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts as referees discuss a call against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Thursday's NBA Board of Governors meeting set in motion a few key changes for the league, all likely to take effect in the coming seasons:

  • There was talk of a new system to penalize flopping, tabled for the Competition Committee, but certainly of interest to the league at large.
  • The board members held a more formal discussion over the possibility of incorporating ads (and thus ad sales) into NBA uniforms, a very real possibility as early as the 2013-2014 season.
  • Interest remains in changing the NBA's basket interference rules to mimic those of FIBA, in which a ball is live once it hits rim.
  • The list of scenarios that trigger the option for video replay has been expanded to include flagrant foul calls of all kinds, called goaltending violations that appear borderline, and block/charge calls made in order to review the defender's position relative to the restricted area.

That last bit of information may pale alongside the curbing of one of the NBA's most unattractive facets and the potential altering of some of its most iconic duds, and yet the rightful expansion of instant replay to include a few more gray areas is a rather important development.

Unfortunately, it's also a rather controversial one; sports fans tend to have very strong feelings about the delays that have been incorporated into the games they love, be it for purposes of advertising or officiating correction.

Still, the latter is unquestionably important, as an officiating crew's ability to make accurate calls is crucial to the game in general. Games don't need to be refereed with 100 percent accuracy, but the more reliable and valid the officiating, the better.

Expanding instant replay to perfectly reasonable points of contention is a no-brainer. The block/charge distinction may be incredibly arbitrary and tough to call at full speed, but if nothing else the new rule allows officials to focus more fully on the specifics of the movement and action as opposed to the placement of feet.

Similarly, the NBA's adoption of an imaginary cylinder construction in order to officiate goaltending puts referees in a difficult spot, and this new allowance affords officials the chance to at least double-check their work when the in-game tension is at its highest and the critical lens is held at its most harsh.

These are good things, and they make the NBA game better. They may not make the fluid, engaging NBA product better, but competitive fairness always comes at a cost.

As much as we'd all like to, we can't have it both ways; every stoppage in play disturbs the game's natural momentum, but in order to keep the league and its values alive, these are necessary evils. If 45 seconds in front of a monitor can correct the course of a game and simultaneously prevent a day (or more) of ridiculous controversy over a single call, then by all means.

Check the work. Get it right. Fix what in real time is unfixable, and make an assessment with the most information possible.