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Time Out: Multi Tasking

By Staff | Feb 12, 2009


For The Wetzel Chronicle

It’s midway through the second quarter of a game and the official hands the ball to a player on the baseline with a hand held high in order to start the clock when the ball is touched by a player in bounds. At the same time he is showing a visual hand movement to make sure the ball is inbounded within the five-second time limit.

After the ball is thrown in, the dribbler is being pressured in the backcourt by the defense and has not yet crossed the half court line; the official’s 10-second hand movement is up to seven seconds. While counting, the official has to make sure the defense did not foul and that the ball handlers have not violated by traveling, carrying the ball, or committing an illegal dribble.

The count is now up to 9 and the crowd gets loud, but the offensive player crosses the division line just in time. The coach yells to the ref that he should’ve called a 10 second violation. However, this official has no time to acknowledge because the dribbler is trapped in the corner, just as he crosses the line.

The official moves in for a close look. Two defensive players are within inches of the dribbler and the official begins another visual hand movement for a closely guarded situation. The two defenders are reaching and are very close to fouling the dribbler as the fans scream for a foul.

The dribbler’s teammate comes near to set a screen for the dribbler. But he is directly behind a defender and out of his visual area and has not given him room to step back. If contact occurs, it will be an illegal screen, but the official can only glance at that for a split second because this player is in trouble.

The closely-guarded count is up to four when the dribbler stops dribbling and holds the ball. The official begins yet a new closely guarded count with the other arm while still watching for a foul, out of bounds, held ball or backcourt violation. Meanwhile, the official hears a voice call for time out.

It is his duty to “visually verify” that this person is the coach of the team having player control or a player of that team before granting the time out. The official quickly looks at the coach and discovers it is he who asked. Quickly looking back to the player to see if he has player control, the official sees the ball go out of bounds off the hand of the offensive player.

Fans and coaches yell for a foul, but all the ref saw was an out of bounds on the offensive player. At this time, the clock is stopped by a hand signal, the ref points in the other direction to give the ball to the defense, and no time-out is granted.

At this point, the coach is generally very unhappy, as are the fans, who are sure the player lost the ball out of bounds because the defender hit this player on the arm and got away with it! Since the defenders had their backs to the other officials, they couldn’t see the foul, either, and probably weren’t looking in that area anyway. The ref is a bum.

Let’s take a minute to see what just happened. This official has made eight specific hand signals, kept a count in his mind on four different occasions, watched closely for fouls and violations, recognized an illegal screen off the ball (legal, unless there is contact, which is called as a foul).

And, in the last six or seven seconds, the ref has literally monitored and acted on 13 different situations: back-court, illegal dribble, foul, screen, five seconds closely guarded, hand movement for same, out of bounds, change hands for new count, time out request, verification, actual out of bounds, hand signal for clock stop, and hand point for direction.

All told, since the ball was in-bounded, this official has monitored or acted upon about 20 situations in a total of about 16 seconds. All of these items are based on required mechanics and specific rules, but we must add one more item to the mix.

The official must use his judgment as to the severity of contact and possible violations. Is a little bump a foul? Did John push Dave or did Dave fall down when John touched him? Did that pivot foot leave the floor before the dribble? Was that ball touched with two hands in between dribbles? Was his hand on the ball when it was slapped? Did that ball touch the line or did it just miss?

Now, you see, we can add even more to the process. In just 15 or 16 seconds, a referee can have a tremendous amount of work and thinking to do. Is this why officials miss some calls? Absolutely! There are only so many things a person can focus on at any given time. The game of basketball includes a tremendous amount of quick-changing action and monitoring so many things at one time, it can be overwhelming at times.

There are times when an official will take two or three seconds thinking about what just happened and by the time the rule comes to his mind, it’s too late to call.

If a contestant on a game show answers a question in three seconds, that person is a genius. If a basketball referee waits three seconds to blow the whistle on a violation or foul, he won’t be officiating very long. Three seconds is enough time for a steal and a basket! A basketball official is the ultimate multi-tasker but he or she does not have the luxury of “thinking about it.” Most whistles should – and do – occur within one-half second after the violation or foul.

In conclusion, if you can multi-task by watching several players in a fast-paced game, determine rules that apply for the players’ actions, use your judgment as to whether or not the act is severe enough, apply and use proper mechanics, and make the call, all in two second, you would be a good basketball official.