Table of Contents
The final two minutes of any competitive men’s college basketball game are excruciating.
College basketball is a piece of my personality. Maybe that’s a weird thing to say, but it’s true. Anyone who knows me knows this. The unity, the creativity, the authenticity – that’s why I take the typical charade at contest conclusions as a personal affront.
You know what I’m talking about. It’s a five-point game with 37.4 seconds to go. The ball goes out of bounds. A call is made, but it isn’t entirely clear. The refs do that walk-jog thing old people do over to a tiny monitor, one of them puts some clunky headphones over half of their head, and for another three minutes and 27 seconds, the viewing public gets to enjoy shots of the back of said ref’s gray hair interspersed with clips of coaches yelling. Then, possession doesn’t change, the game clock is adjusted from 38.2 seconds, and we await the next step in our saga of stoppages.
It sucks. It destroys the game’s momentum, it gives coaches extra timeouts they don’t deserve, and it’s just plain boring. It feels more pointless with every passing year.
So, how do we fix this?
Can We Fix It?
There is no reason for on-court refs to stare at a little screen for minutes on end while the rest of us sit around. In most instances, the correct call is obvious to those at home watching on 40-inch flat screens within at least three replays. That doesn’t seem to speed up the process, though.
Each conference should have an office at its headquarters with trained officials who are witnessing the action live. The HQ ref would have immediate access to everything the on-court official does now during replay reviews but while manning the controls themselves and watching on a larger screen. Late in the game, when the HQ official flags an out-of-bounds, goaltending, flagrant foul, or other calls that are reviewable, they would immediately send a buzz to a watch on the lead on-court ref’s wrist. They would blow their whistle, and the timer would begin.
The HQ ref would have a maximum of one minute to determine if the call on the court is indisputably incorrect, with the clock ticking at the whistle’s pause. The HQ and on-court refs would be in communication throughout. In my ideal world, this audio is broadcasted to viewers at home. If the HQ ref cannot find enough evidence to overrule the on-court decision, then the game continues with the initial call. Clock issues would be the only exception to the timed review.
Basketball is one of, if not the, most difficult sports to officiate – I know from experience. Everything is urgent. There can be no time for indecisiveness. On-court officials already carry a massive burden. Given modern capabilities, it’s unnecessary to saddle them with more.
How the NCAA conducts its reviews made sense in 2013. It no longer does in 2023. The additional cost for each conference to add two to five HQ refs to their payrolls and shell out for the audio equipment should be manageable, and if it isn’t, then that conference has bigger problems. In exchange, the experience for fans attending live and lounging at home will improve, spreading the officiating responsibility will make everyone’s job easier, and most importantly, the game itself will have a better chance of maintaining the flow it had for the first 38 minutes.