What's Obvious Mean Anyway?

All season long we, as referees, chant the popular mantra drilled into our heads from Day One at Officiating 101: Call the obvious. 

But what does that mantra mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, “Obvious” is an adjective and the word carries a few meanings but most notably the following two:

  1.        Easy to see or notice
  2.        Easy for the mind to understand or recognize

Don’t both definitions seem relatively obvious…? LOL. 

However, if you were to poll 100 referees on a set of plays, you would receive varying answers on what’s “easy to see.”  Then there’s what is actually “noticed” by referees when we are each highly focused on different aspects of the game taking place at the same point in time.  Or, possibly members of a crew are not focused enough or not focused on the right stuff.  And, in the end of the day, who knows who understands what?

Maybe it just ISN’T that OBVIOUS afterall! 

So, how do you translate the mantra into actual in-game performance by YOUR crew night in and night out – even during the off-season games you officiate.  How do we all determine what’s obvious and judge plays with all the subtleties that exist in the game of basketball, especially since we know that what we actually see in our game is based on the angle we have at the time the play occurs?  And if it was easy for one referee to see, is that enough for any of the three on the floor to blow his/her whistle regardless of where the play takes place?? 

Last season, in a pre-game, a great discussion around this mantra came up.  

We talked about a play that is obvious is one that the majority of people recognize regardless of where the play takes place (in your primary or secondary).  If the play takes place in your primary, needs a whistle and you see it, blow your whistle.  If it takes place in your secondary, needs a whistle and you see it, give your partner a chance to blow, when he/she doesn’t have a whistle, blow yours and make the call. 

Using that interpretation of obvious, here’s how I categorize plays to dictate my decision-making: 

Whistle plays - Well, in objective terms, these are plays where the option to blow our whistle or not blow our whistle just doesn’t exist.  These plays must have a whistle!  Turns out, these are not the plays that referees usually have trouble calling, regardless of whether the play takes place in one’s primary or secondary.  It’s only when a crew loses focus that a whistle from one of the three referees doesn’t come.  Typically, the entire place will explode – even the team that benefits from the “no whistle” recognizes a mistake has been made.  When we do have a whistle, we may go to the film and realize we didn’t see the whole play AND we may even get this play incorrect.   It doesn’t matter – the crew must still have a whistle and call the play based on information known at the time.

Face-value plays – These are plays that just don’t have any middle ground (In the women’s NCAA game , some examples are:  clear block/charge, five-second count for throw-in, ball hits the rim or it doesn’t, 10 second backcourt call, secondary defender in RA trying to take a charge on a play starting outside LDB, etc.).  These are plays that have answers.  Regardless of the game situation and other plays that have been called throughout, these plays are to be called for exactly what they are…when they are actually observed by one of the three referees.  When anyone goes to the film, he/she will agree with the decision made by the referee – provided the referee sees it and calls the play for what it is.

Plays with Options – These are plays where you blow the whistle if contact determined illegal, don’t blow the whistle if deemed incidental, for example.  These plays may be influenced by the game situation (e.g. physicality, intensity, take-fouls at the end of the game) and how the crew has been responding to similar plays all night.  The teams and players adjust based upon how the game is called when it’s called consistently.  You and your crew must have awareness to understand your options with these plays.  In my opinion, this is truly where the separation among officials occurs.  It’s the piece of the game that cannot be explained in clear and exact terms - and that drives our critics crazy.  Different games and crews may make different decisions on plays with options.  It’s where game flow can be defined or completely lost.  When the film is reviewed in isolation (i.e. play for play), the person reviewing the play may not agree with the decision made in the game, but when the game was actually going on - the call fit and teams and players buy-in and make the necessary adjustments. 

Eventually, the adjustments made by the teams when we are all consistent on these plays with options, makes our decision-making easier – as we have witnessed in the NCAA tournaments  for the last few weeks.  The crews have been able to call the obvious for the most part, freedom of movement seemed to exist, and the games were great to watch! 

We have to be able to follow our rules and guidelines and respond to plays accordingly, AND, by the way, keep the game running smoothly at the same time.  Plays with Options, in my opinion, are those opportunities to create the FEEL that the game was fairly played and officiated AND that the team that played the best that night won the game.

The game is an experience – it starts out 0-0 and in the end one team wins.  We are part of that experience.  The goal is to narrow the variability in how referees perceive plays to create more uniformity in our decision-making.  That is done through training and skill-share development.  We must engage each other and collaborate to make this happen.  We will always have plays with options, but engaging your crews in discussion surrounding various game situations to flush out any possible confusion and/or faulty thought process, in a non-judgmental way, is NOT optional.  This is what gets people engaged in the overall performance of the crew.

Please share some of your decision-making techniques and processes you use to bring accuracy to the games and your crews!  

Have a great off-season!

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