So I just recently went on a little rant on one of my friend’s status post about NBA officiating and I realized the answer to the problem is actually quite simple. Pay for performance. And the system would be ridiculously easy to build and operate.
There are two kinds of “calls” that are made by an official hundreds of times throughout the game. A direct call, which is typically signified by the blowing of the whistle and an in-direct call, or not blowing a whistle when one was needed. With the first kind the scoring is easy, if the whistle was blown, was it justified? If it was then it counts as a positive call. If not, then it counts as a negative call. In fact, this part of the system could almost be done in real time. Say a ref blows his whistle 60 times and 52 of those whistles are considered “positive”, then he has a score of 86% for the first section.
The second kind of call is harder to review, because the real-time aspect of the game is easy to dissect in review when you can focus on the single event, but hard to judge whether or not is should be caught in real time. This is where a reviewers judgement call comes into play (and hence my system for managing this) but a “missed” call gets judged on a scale of 0 to 3. 3 would be so obvious I can’t believe you didn’t call it (think LeBron’s non call on Durant at the end of the game in Game 2 of the 2012 Finals) down to 1, which would be roughly equivalent of “after watching this on replay 3 or 4 times I know it was a foul, but it was hard to catch.”
There are a total of 1230 games played in the regular season of the NBA, with a potential of 105 more in the playoffs. At most, 15 games are played a night. With that in mind I would have at total of 85 (17 groups) “reviewers” whose job it is to watch a game and score the officiating. 5 reviewers would watch a game, score the officiating group’s performance based on three factors:
- Direct Calls (Whistle Blows) - Straight percentage of accurate calls made. Or in other words, 60 of the 75 whistle blows were for valid reasons. This would account for 60% of the officiating team’s score.
- InDirect Calls (Missed Fouls) - Total score of the reviewer’s “you should have caught this scale” with every incident calculated against the aggregate tally of all reviewers (for example, 3 reviewers saw an uncalled foul at 3:45 into the 2nd quarter, 2 reviewers saw an uncalled foul at 5:47 into the 3rd quarter, total of 2 incidents) with that value normalized into a percentage. This would account for 30% of the officiating team’s score.
- Fairness of the calling - A subjective 1 to 100% rating of how “fair” or “one-sided” the officiating was to both teams.
Then throw out the top and the bottom scores and average it all together. The reviewers never know who the other 4 people are, and the same 5 people should in theory only review as a complete team maybe twice for a season.
Here’s the kicker. Last season the top 30 players earned an average of $17 million for the season. If we took half of that value and divided that by 82, that comes out to just over $100k. What if we were paying refs on a scale like that? Consider the following payscale:
- Average officiating score (AOS) of 95% or higher - $100k bonus for each game you officiate.
- AOS of 90% or higher - $95k bonus for each game you officiate
- AOS of 85% or higher - $90k bonus per game
do $5k steps all the way down to 65% and then this kicker:
If your AOS is less than 60% for more than two seasons, you are done with the NBA. If your life time AOS isn’t over 75% you aren’t officiating a playoff basketball game. If your season AOS isn’t over 80% you aren’t officiating a playoff basketball game. If your playoff AOS isn’t over 90% you aren’t officiating in the Finals.
This little pipe dream won’t necessarily stop an official’s crappy night of officiating (even the best players have incredibly crappy nights) but what it will do is ensure that the officials are doing everything the can to be the best they can be. One bad night won’t necessarily kill you for the season, but enough bad nights will not only keep you from doing your job in prime time (the playoffs) but it will also be hitting you in your favorite spot as well. Your wallet.