Crunch Time: The Mind of an Official and Umpire in the Crucial Stages of a Game

In a game of baseball there is a split second between the time that the pitcher winds up his arm, and the time a home plate umpire gets ready to call the pitch. In a close game that second seems like forever. Three other umpires are in the same mind set as well. It takes one blink of an eye, one false position, and one anticipated call to create an umpire’s nightmare. In the sport of basketball the same thing happens in a much quicker and aggressive pace.

There are three officials in a basketball game, the referee (crew chief), and the two umpires. For starters, an official’s work day starts way before tip off.Most official’s game days begin in the wee hours of the morning. They wake up, go to the gym for a workout, and throughout the day have video reviews, rule book tests, and other steps that lead up to game time.

No official thinks about a bad whistle in the game. At the umpire and referee schools they compare it to being a fighter pilot. If the pilot thinks about crashing, how can he do his job? When the ball goes up in the air at game time the only thing an official thinks about is making sure the game is played in a fair and safe environment.

In officiating, there is certain protocol for late game situations depending on the sport. In the case of basketball all three officials have a role on the call. The trail, lead, and center system is the most common use of three man mechanics at all levels. On every call, every official has a role that helps manage the game. First off, I’ll define where each official is on the court.

Let’s go to the Michigan-Tennessee call last night. The ball is being inbounded by Tennessee at the baseline. The lead official (L on the image above) is monitoring the defined line of clearance and counting out five seconds. The center official (c), and trail official (t), are watching as well and waiting to move to the ball. The ball was passed to a Tennessee player in the center official’s coverage area. Two Michigan defenders come to the scene and the center official has to move to the best angle possible. The Lead official moves to his area of the basket, but when two defenders are on the player with the ball, the lead official can leave his territory because it would now be considered a help call, if one is made. The center official blows his whistle and makes the call. It’s an offensive foul.

The first job is for the official who made the call (in this case, the center) to go to the table and announce who committed the foul. The lead official is holding the ball, and he’ll move to the center position on the incoming possession. Meanwhile, the trail official, goes over to the sideline and monitors the coaching box areas respectively. The crew is allowed to go to replay, in which they do.

The first step in commanding a replay is putting a head set on and contacting the TV producer in the truck and checking to see if a commercial break is coming up. If so, the officials can request that all TV outlets go to commercial break as silly as it sounds. After that, the crew chief tells the replay official what angle he wants and from there it becomes a focal point to work as a crew. Once the call is made all is said and done.

After the game the officials go into the locker room to get changed and talk about the game. It’s a long day but one call is worth a lot to all officials. It’s what they strive for.

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