In theory, an official's only objective is to officiate the game according to the rules. However, if an official called every violation and foul and applied every rule to the letter of the law, the game would not be as we know it today. Rather, an official's job on the court is to provide judgment to what they see and apply philosophy in judging if the action was legal or illegal. Without a doubt, judgment of the game is the hardest part of an officials job and often the point of scrutiny in games. However, there are concepts used throughout the game that help to be objective in applying the rules and that officials use in judging the action they have seen.
First and foremost, the officials working together as a crew must be consistent in their calls. This means calling similar calls in similar manners at both ends of the court. While at times, the calls may not be to the liking of players, fans, or coaches, they will all adapt to the manner in which the game is being officiated. However, if consistency is lacking, there is no manner in which they are able to adapt. For instance, if officials are calling every bit of contact a foul, players will begin to play defense less aggressively. But, if officials are "allowing them to play", the game is likely to become more physical.
One of the most important philosophies that an official can apply is the idea of advantage/disadvantage. From a spectator, coach, or player's point-of-view, a foul is a foul and they always want it called. However, it is common practice that officials call a given play based on whether a player gained an advantage by committing an act or if a player put another player at a disadvantage by committing an act. If it is a bordlerline call or no-call and the officials determines that neither an advantage was gained nor was a player put at a disadvantage, then it is likely a call will not be made. Likewise, official's have the luxury of being able to avoid making a call if in their judgment, an advantage is likely to be gained by the non-offending team if a call is not made. For instance, if there is minor contact on a player in the open court while passing the ball to a teammate who will have a breakaway lay-up, an official may not make the call if they recognize that not calling it will likely result in the non-offending team still making the play that they were attempting to make.
Among officials, there are four principles of basketball officiating that if applied properly and consistently will likely result in producing a higher quality of officiating. The four principles are
RSBQ is an acronym that is commonly applied to determine if a foul has occurred. The letters stand for rhythm, speed, balance, and quickness. The idea is that if one of these is compromised then it is likely a foul should be called.
Part of an official's job is to provide a quality game for the players. In attempting to do so, it is beneficial for the game to gain rhythm or a flow. By doing so, there is more of an up and down the court pace to the game with less wistles. This provides a higher quality game and consists more of the players athleticism being the major component of the game. In order to achieve this level of play, officials try to avoid game interrupters. These are plays that while able to be called, may be avoided or use preventative officiating techniques to keep the pace of the game.
The following interview took place with a collegiate & high school basketball official. Q:What part of the philosophies of the game of basketball do you find it hardest for fans to comprehend? A:Fans have a biased approach to the game. They see most plays as black and white. As an official, it is our job to see the gray area and apply rules. Q:What is the hardest rule to apply? A:Block/charge. The plays often happen so quickly that if you don't properly officiate the play and see it through you are likely to get it incorrect. Often times, we have what we call a 50/50 in which it could go either way. Once we call a 50/50 one way, we call all other 50/50 plays that way the remainder of the game for consistency purposes. Q:How did you get started officiating? A:I started out as an Intramural Sports basketball official at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a freshman in college. It was a great opportunity to make some extra money and now it has become a career. Q:Did you find it hard to officiate the first time you stepped on the court? A: Yes. You think since you've been around the game as a child it would be easy. But, there are so many rules to interpret and mechanics to learn that it is a whole new game as an official.