Three is better than two

1. Better view. The 3rd official has a better view of the play from the weak side, enhancing the view of post play and screens.whistle

2. Better angles. Officials are in better position to see the play coming towards them. Calls are less apt to be ‘made on the run’ as they are with two officials.


3. Better transition cover. The speed of today’s game, along with long outlet passes makes it difficult for two officials to cover the play. It is also difficult to ‘stay with the play’ at the offensive end and also be prepared to lead the play as it moves to the opposite basket. 3 referee coverage places officials in a better position to cover that situation.

4. Improves 3 point coverage. With the addition of the 3 point shot and the mechanics needed to cover each play, there is a critical need for a 3rd official to ensure that each play is called correctly.

5. Improves ‘on-ball’ coverage. 3 referees allows an official to be totally focused ‘on-ball’, which deters hand-checking and illegal use of the hands/arms by either defense or offense.

6. Increases ‘off-ball’ coverage. 3 referees assures the necessary ‘off-ball’ coverage to control illegal screening, holding and rough play.

7. Better full-court coverage. The 3rd official helps with the increased demands of full court traps and presses.

8. More stamina. Officials are not as physically exhausted during the important closing stages of the game. Fatigue makes cowards of all officials.

9. Better bench control. A 3rd official provides more opportunities for effective bench personnel control and communication.

10. Reduces fouls. The presence of the 3rd official may reduce the number of fouls per game due to the ‘deterrent factor.

11. Provides mentoring opportunities. Having 3 officials promotes a better learning environment for younger officials and enables them to gain invaluable experience at the desired level. There is no substitute for experience and the ‘protection’ of two experienced officials enables the ‘rookie’ to learn in a supported environment.



Other comments:


Ed Rush (NBA). ‘With 3 officials there is a dramatically higher efficiency in overall game management. The presence of the 3rd official almost always is better than with two officials’. Calling the plays is 25-40% better. There is no guessing’.


Dick Knox (NCHSAA). ‘The game of basketball has improved tremendously during the last few years, the players are bigger, stronger, faster and more skilful than in the past. More officials are needed on the court to evaluate the game from more strategic positions on the floor’.


Ralph Swearngin (GHSA). ‘3 referees provides better off-ball coverage. Smaller defined areas to cover allow better concentration in a more manageable court space. The 3rd official helps protect the shooter as greater coverage is possible’.


Arguments against:


1. Increased costs. Cost is a concern for today’s cost conscious budget holders. Three is definitely better than two, so compromises have to be found to fund the third official. In the long term it is an investment in referee development at the right level, ensuring a continuous flow of new officials as the veterans retire.

2. Shrinking pool. Many objectors say that there are not enough good officials to justify the 3 man system. The 3 man system actually helps retention because there are more opportunities for ‘rookies’. If there are more opportunities then the younger officials are motivated and can see the way ahead. The experience of the veterans merged with the ‘mechanics expertise’ of the younger officials makes for a successful blending.

3. More refs means more fouls. This is a popular misconception because all the statistics at high school, college and pro ball do not bear it out. Statistics from the NCAA since 1979 show that fouls have decreased since the introduction of the third official.


Quotation. ‘Administrators owe it to their players and coaches to go to the 3 referee system. Its really a safety issue, much better’.


Jakub Zamojski

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