As is true in any contemporary sport that has become increasingly riddled with stricter rules as the sport has evolved, officiating proves to be one of, if not the most controversial aspect of the NBA today. In recent years, there have been a number of erroneous officiating decisions that have caused public outcries from fans, players, and coaches alike. Last season in particular featured many instances where an unpopular — if not totally bogus — call potentially harmed the integrity of the game’s final result. To name a couple popular examples: Kevin Durant blatantly stepped out of bounds with ~30 seconds remaining in overtime against the Rockets while he was trying to save the ball, which eventually reached Steph, who went on to nail a clutch midrange shot that almost cost the Rockets what was a tied game before Curry’s shot; and, of course, in several games Harden’s controversial foul-drawing technique behind the 3-point line has led to several fallacious foul calls that can be devastating in a neck-and-neck match.
While it is clear that NBA referees boast some of the most difficult officiating tasks in major sports due to the fast pace of the NBA game, it still goes without saying that the officiating could be improved.
With this in mind, the NBA has announced that a coaches’ challenge rule, which has been briefly tested during Summer League this year as well as in the G League during the past two seasons, will be implemented for the upcoming NBA season with the purpose of improving officiating accuracy. The rule will be used on a trial basis for the duration of the 2019-2020 season.
The NBA’s new challenge rule will allow for coaches to challenge an official call — with which the coach disagrees — during a game. Regardless of whether or not the challenge is successful, coaches are only allotted the use of one challenge flag each game.
Coaches may challenge officials’ decisions that are related to foul calls, out-of-bounds calls, and goaltending or other forms of basket interference at any point during the game. In addition, coaches can challenge personal fouls, but not until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. They cannot, however, challenge non-calls.
Furthermore, coaches must have at least one timeout in order to challenge a call. In a situation where a coach wants to initiate a challenge, he will call a timeout and inform the officials of his intention to challenge the call-at-hand. Similarly to the NFL’s challenge rules, if the challenge is successful and the original call is overturned, then the timeout that the coach risked in order to challenge the call will be given back. If the challenge is a failure, then the coach loses the timeout.
While the rule will likely be far from perfect and could necessitate alterations, it is a step in the right direction; the direction towards better officiating in the NBA.