One of the most criticized aspects in the NBA and most professional sports is refereeing. Despite a drastic change in technology over the last decade, by utilizing replays to aid officials, missed calls are still a common occurrence. As such, the NBA will follow in the steps of the NHL by utilizing an offsite system next year.
Controversy erupted last week during Game Five of the semi-finals between the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder due to a questionable call. During the play, Matt Barnes attempted to swipe the ball away from Reggie Jackson; however, his hand never got quite near the ball. Because of this, it seemed more than evident that the ball was out on the Thunder guard. Immediately after the play, the refs gathered around a court monitor and tried to make out who the ball was out on. Surprisingly, the refs kept their ruling and it was called out on the Clippers. Not only was it argued that the refs made the incorrect call, but much like all other replays, the process took quite some time to figure out.
As criticized as the NBA is on their officiating, they have always made strides to improve the system. A centralized replay system may be the answer. The NHL is the first and only sport at this point to implement the system. If the NBA follows suit, it may be able to eliminate situations like the questionable Game Five call.
Unlike the current NBA configuration, the NHL’s system takes place in an off-site central control center in Toronto. In the 20 by 40 foot room, there is a wall of TVs that are operated in real-time by on-site technicians, who are managed by NHL executives. This high-tech environment not only is speedier than on-site replays, but it also utilizes several camera angles simultaneously. Typically during an NBA game, there are 12 cameras following the action over various networks. In this process, executives will have all of these cameras at their disposal to ensure the right call is made.
How the ruling process is conducted is simple in the NHL. Once the executive makes a decision on the play, he is patched through to the replay judge in the arena. Following this, a headset is given to the head referee where the executive tells the official the ruling.
The nice thing about this system is that it combines two things that is a problem in the NBA. The first, of course, is that it will enable a thorough system that will allow the league to, hopefully, make the right call. No longer will the NBA issue statements that the wrong call was made the night before. No longer will a player or team get the bad side of a call, thanks to the precision of the command center.
Additionally, games will not move at a snail’s pace. This postseason has resulted in quite a bit of overlap if two games are butting heads with each other. This technology will enable a swift decision, which will result in shorter games. Oftentimes when using the on-site playback system, it can take up to five minutes to make a decision. This is not only is distracting for the viewer, but it can slow down the momentum of a team.
As great as this system seems, nothing is certain. The NHL has done a fantastic job in utilizing this state-of-the-art system, which is why it, arguably, has the best officiating in all of professional sports. However, it also has been put to use for the last three years. When the NBA most likely implements this system next year, it will be new to everyone. It will not be perfect. Executives and technicians will have to be trained. The technology will have to be top-of-the-line and adjusted throughout the season. In essence, just because it works in the NHL, does not mean it will work in the NBA from the get-go.
Despite the mystery of this new technology though, it will serve as a great tool for the league — not to mention that it will most likely lead to the NFL and MLB to follow suit. Most importantly, if this technology is used properly, it will remove any stigma the league has had in terms of conspiracy theories of refs favoring one team over another.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey