In today’s basketball games, there are three referees on the court. Now, the NBA minor league is experimenting with having four or even five referees in a single game to see if it’s something that the entire sport could benefit from. It’s an experiment right now, but could come to have an effect on those that are training to be basketball referees and would be officiating smaller league games.

This isn’t the first time that the number of referees in a game has changed. During the 1988-1989 season, the NBA went from two referees to three. This was a move that was met with a lot of criticism at the time, and some people think that the NBA is about to repeat history. Is this going to be a good move or a bad one? Let’s break down what referees do and what the NBA hopes to accomplish by adding more people to the court.

What the Additional Referees Will Do

There’s a lot of action in basketball games, things move quickly, and there’s a lot to look at even in a single play. The experimental run of four or five basketball referees in a game is being used to see if the number of missed calls could be reduced.

There are a few configurations getting tried out. For five-person crews, the two officials being added will take stationary lead positions on each end of the court and will rotate with the existing three-person crew. For four-person crews, there are two formations being tried. One involves two officials in the lead position with the other two split between trail and slot; in the second, there are two officials in the slot position, and the other two act as a trail and a lead.

The Good News

This trial run has been well-received, for the most part. Fans, coaches, players, and officials always want to find ways to better serve the game they love, and if this is a move that could improve things for everyone they want it to happen. A change in the system could result in high levels of training for officials and really make sure that everyone is on the same page and knows what to look for. There’s the simple fact that more eyes watching the game means that more accurate calls, especially travel calls, can be made and more things can be caught before they become problems.

With more referees, individual officials will likely see their good qualities enhanced. What’s more is that when you get a proper crew of people, like in any team environment, they will work off of each other well. More opinions means that officials can talk each other out of being too by-the-book for individual situations and avoid the pressure to be too perfect.

The Criticism

Some people are hesitant to accept the move, because it’s a bit early to tell if it’s a helpful one. The fourth or fifth person on a basketball referee team could evolve into a glorified travel-caller or clock-watcher if officials aren’t careful. While spotting penalties is good, there’s the fact that a nitpicking referee could simply make more calls and end up extending the game time. Lastly, there’s no guarantee that adding one or two more people will necessarily change the responsiveness and responsibility of the entire group. There needs to be a healthy balance between how the officials communicate with each other and teams, and there’s no guarantee that everyone is going to achieve that balance.

Referee Training with ArbiterSports

Basketball rule changes affect all referees, whether they’re veterans or just starting out. It can be hard to learn something new, so let us help you out. With the ArbiterSports line of products, we make it easy for officials at all levels of play to refresh themselves on the rules and test their skills before they go on the court. If you have questions about ArbiterWorks referee training or any of our other products, or if you want a demo, call 800.576.2799 or email