NBA Likely to Consider Giving Referees Expanded Instant Replay Discretion

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2014

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gestures during an address, Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Charles Krupa

In an ongoing effort to improve the role of instant replay, the NBA is considering expanding the rights of officials to use video in more varied ways. At the moment, referees are limited by rules requiring that they only evaluate certain kinds of plays and scenarios.

But according to league commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday, officials are likely to have increased jurisdiction going forward, per the Associated Press (via

So far, in terms of all of our triggers, we've tried to maintain a line of what is clearly objectively ascertainable. You know, foot on the line or not, buzzer or not. My sense is where we'll end up is giving the referees more discretion over what they can look at once we go to replay.

Silver's comments ironically "came hours before" Jeff Teague's now infamous buzzer-beating three-pointer that widened the Atlanta Hawks' leads over the Indiana Pacers. Officials were allowed to confirm that the shot was a three-pointer and taken inbounds, but they weren't allowed to evaluate whether he'd remained inbounds prior to the shot.

He hadn't.

The controversial play has quickly become a strong indication that current replay procedures are insufficient. The conventional wisdom seems to suggest that if officials can review an objectively reversible call, they should be able to—regardless of the particular scenario.'s Zach Harper opined that the rule was nonsensical, and most would probably agree:

Since [the shot] happened before the final two minutes of the quarter, the refs could only check to make sure he was behind the 3-point line and couldn't review whether or not he was inbounds. Well, he was so far behind the 3-point line that he wasn't even legally on the court. It's a horrendous stipulation for replay rules, and a very unnecessary one, that makes this a tough situation to swallow for the Pacers.

Silver sounded in line with that thinking, explaining, "I think the most difficult area now, even for our fans to understand, is when an official can go to replay and everyone can see something that looks like a foul or wasn't a foul, but yet the official is restricted from being able to apply, in essence, his judgment on the play." 

That increased discretion reasons to be quite advantageous, allowing more questionable calls to receive added scrutiny. The only uncertainty going forward is where to draw the line. There are probably calls that are open enough to subjective interpretation that further review would only exacerbate postgame disagreement.

Examples include charging calls and other instances of contact that are debatable even after review.

Otherwise, expanded replay opportunities should become especially valuable during the postseason. With all eyes on any given play of importance, the league can ill afford to ignore situations in which referees simply aren't empowered to make the right call—however obvious.

In general, Silver's commitment to using instant replay the right way should only help the integrity of the game, reducing the tendency among fans to second-guess officiating or otherwise doubt the legitimacy of game outcomes.

The progress may be incremental, but it's progress none the less. According to the AP, "The competition committee will meet again for two days in July to recommend any changes, which would have to be approved by owners."