The standard response that basketball coaches go to when asked about officiating in general is “lack of consistency.” I can think of several pretty valid retorts to that statement that officials could certainly make. Like, if a team consistently played good fundamentally sound basketball, it would be a lot easier for officials to call the game in a more consistent manor.
There are a couple of things officials can be aware of in an attempt to be as consistent in their approach to the game as possible. The first is to understand the importance of “benchmark” calls and “benchmark” no calls and the second is to be smart enough to “match” those calls.
The term “benchmark’ is defined as a standard or a point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed. In basketball officiating, the “benchmark” calls are the first calls made in a game on specific types of plays. For example the first hand check call of the game sets the bar for all the remaining hand check calls yet to come. If all three officials are on board with the first call, that benchmark call, and “match” that call on all similar hand check calls, throughout the duration of the game, the crew has a better chance at being consistent.
Conversely, if crew members don’t take notice of benchmark plays or don’t conscientiously try to match them, the crew has less chance of being consistent.
Matching calls made by your partners is a high level officiating skill. It requires you to have had at least a partial look at the call your partner made so you will recognize similar contact later in the game and rule on it appropriately. Dave Hall is fond of saying, “ you cannot officiate in a vacuum.” While a basketball official has to focus on his/her primary area of responsibility, he/she, at the same time, needs to know what is happening in other areas of the court. Quite a balancing act!
The benchmark call needs to be spot on. It cannot be too tight or it sets the stage for a game being called to closely. On the other hand the benchmark call may actually be a “no call” that may dictate the game becoming too physical. It is a fine line to walk.
The point here is to be aware of the first call the crew makes regarding freedom of movement, verticality, block charge and the like. Call similar rebounding situations the same, the same goes for illegal screens. If the crew calls an early travel on one team be on the lookout for a similar violation by the opponent.
Discussing benchmark calls in the pregame meeting and the importance of matching them throughout the game is an important way and maybe the only way for the crew to be as consistent as humanly possible.
In the video below Kevin Kizewski, a Colorado State Championship official as well as a NCAA DI and D-II official makes the first call of a recent college game with 55 seconds gone off the clock setting the tone for hand checking Watch the Head Coach ask Kevin if that’s the way hand checking is going to be called this year. Kevin’s response is that that call is the benchmark. They will adjust.