Sports leagues and their officials are always looking for ways to improve the accuracy of their calls and the understanding of why they were made. The NHL introduced Coach’s Challenges to provide an opportunity for a second look at certain critical situations surrounding goals, specifically goaltender interference and offside plays.
The NBA, in an attempt to improve transparency, implemented the ‘Last Two Minutes’ – or L2M – report. The report was created as “the latest step in the league’s effort toward more transparency in its officiating program.”
“Our fans are passionate and have an intense interest in understanding how the rules are applied,” said Mike Bantom, Executive Vice President of Referee Operations. “NBA referees have the most difficult officiating job in sports, with so many split-second decisions in real time. We trust this consistent disclosure will give fans a greater appreciation of the difficulty of the job and a deeper sense of the correct interpretations of the rules of our game.”
Instead, it’s stirred up controversy and additional scrutiny around the officials’ original calls and the responses given in the league’s next-day report.
Now, the National Basketball Referees Association has released a formal statement of their opposition to the reports. From the NBRA:
The NBRA believes the league’s actions to promote so-called transparency will cause more harm than good for the officials and the game. We call for an end to L2M reporting and other transparency measures and a return to private, league-managed evaluations, reviews, education, training, and discipline for NBA officials.
Should the NBA reject the NBRA’s call and press forward with L2M reporting, it is critical that the current process be reformed to improve its accuracy and minimize the damage and divisiveness it is causing.
Reasons to End L2M Reporting and Other “Transparency” Measures
– Transparency does nothing to change the outcome of the game.
– Transparency encourages anger and hostility towards NBA officials.
– Focusing on officiating statistics encourages stat-oriented, versus game-oriented, officiating. It is in the best interest of the NBA and its fans to encourage and develop game-oriented referees that balance game flow and fair play.
– Efforts to promote transparency have encouraged the idea that perfection in officiating is possible. Perfection is neither possible nor desirable; if every possible infraction were to be called, the game would be unwatchable and would cease to exist as a form of entertainment in this country.
– Transparency has been misused as a catalyst by some teams to mobilize fans against the officials in an attempt to coerce more favorable treatment.
– While the goal of transparency was to promote understanding and credibility, there is no evidence that progress against these goals is being made.
Key Concerns/Questions About the Current Process
1. Who in NBA Referee Operations is evaluating the game footage and writing the initial L2M reports, and what are their qualifications?
2. Who at NBA League Operations is actually reviewing and editing the L2M reports, and what qualifications do they have to evaluate and change the reports prior to their being released? What is the reasoning behind those changes?
3. Are the reviewers applying the same league-directed guidelines and instructions related to rules interpretation as the referees on the court are?
4. Why does NBA League Operations have the final word on reviews? Why can’t those decisions be challenged?
Recommended Process Reforms (if NBA continues L2M reporting)
1. Increase L2M Process Transparency – Identify the individuals reviewing and editing reports and reveal their qualifications to do so. Only people with extensive officiating experience should be in a position to review on-court decisions.
2. Interpret Rules Consistently – Referees are instructed by the league on how to interpret the rules, and it is critical that L2M reporting follow those same interpretations. It is not uncommon to see L2M review comments contradict directions/guidelines given to the game officials.
3. Establish An Appeal Process – L2M reports represent only a single perspective on a particular play, and those judgments are not infallible. A forum to question/challenge an L2M report decision will encourage dialogue that will enhance fan understanding and ensure that everyone involved benefits from valuable learning and insight.
This is not the first time the NBA referees have voiced their objection.
— NBA Referees (@OfficialNBARefs) April 23, 2016
The officials aren’t the only ones against the post-game critiques. The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade has already spoken out against the L2M reports.
“I think you go through the whole game and it’s transparent for the whole game,” said Wade. “You don’t just do two minutes of the game. There’s a lot that happens in the game that can affect the last two minutes. A player’s action or something that happened can affect those last two minutes as far as why something was or wasn’t done.
“I don’t think those last two minutes is a real indication of any transparency because it’s a 48-minute game. It could’ve been something I did early in the game that’s the reason I didn’t get that in the last minute. Who knows? I just don’t think two minutes is a real indication. That’s just my personal opinion.”
“It does nothing for us or any other team,” Wade said. “Go through a whole game and break it down, and I think it would help the refs and this league continue to grow, but those Last Two Minute [reports] are not a good thing. It’s not a good light shining on the game. A lot of things are in-the-moment plays and calls, and it’s easy to go back and do Monday morning quarterback things. If we could all do that in life, we’d all be different people, but we can’t. I don’t think it’s a good thing.”
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said the L2M reports “throw officials under the bus.”
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich also questioned the practice.
“You’d have to ask [the NBA] exactly why they do it. It doesn’t change anything,” Popovich said. “For the people involved, it’s very frustrating because there’s nothing you can do about it. So it’s sort of an odd practice in that sense, but I think they just want to have transparency. So from their perspective it’s a good thing so that people know they can admit errors, that’s always a good thing, and people won’t just guess about what’s going on. So from their perspective it’s a good thing and that’s hard to argue with.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended the report, saying, “Roughly 90 percent [of the time] — they get it right. Now, of course, I’d like 90 percent to be 100 percent. And so would they. But what these reports also show, what fans already know is, human error is part of this game, and the best athletes in the world make mistakes. And coaches occasionally make mistakes. Officials do, too.”
Right. Everyone knows that. Only coaches don’t have their errors packaged up and released by the team the next day, pointing out where they went wrong. Teams don’t send out press releases of missed shots, or times when players shot instead of passing to a teammate that was wide open. They don’t have their bosses publicizing each and every mistake, nor providing the public with an explanation as to what they should’ve done.
It’s good to see the NBA officials taking a stand against a practice they feel undermines their profession and openly challenges their decision making.
The fact that it’s being done publicly – and on an off-day during the NBA Finals – speaks volumes to the type of reply the league may have initially offered in response to the officials’ concerns.
The NHL would be wise to review the NBRA’s concerns during the offseason and discuss with league officials in a proactive attempt to quell the same kinds of concerns around goal reviews and Coach’s Challenges. Transparency is a great thing, as is improved communication. Before that, though, it’s absolutely necessary to make sure everyone – operations and officials – is on the same page.