Off-Ball Officiating

By Todd Von Sossan

Good officiating revolves around two simple principles and is true for either the offensive player or the defensive player. Did the contact created displace the opponent OR did the contact created hinder the freedom of movement of the opponent. If either one of these are true and a player has created obvious contact which in turn gains an advantage, then that particular act needs to be called a foul. Notice I said, obvious!

At every possession of the game there is an offensive player with the ball and 1 (and sometimes 2) defenders guarding this offensive player. For the covering official this is a very simple and basic part of basketball officiating. However, the most critical and often overlooked portion of the game is what is going on with the other 4 offensive and 4 defensive players on the court and the 2 officials responsible for officiating all off‐ball play situations. The most important thing to remember is rarely if evershould we have 2 officials focused on the on‐ball play which leaves 1 official to monitor the remaining 8 players. Essentially if the play on the ball is not in your primary area do not get caught ball watching, instead focus on the other 8 players. All kinds of things are happening, such as:

  • Post players are jostling for position.
  • Offensive players are cutting through the lane.
  • Defensive players are bumping or chucking these cutting offensive players.
  • Offensive players are setting screens to get their teammates open which may be a legal or illegal screen.

There is in old saying that a game is only officiated as good as the players that are playing the game. This is only partially true, more talented players are able to avoid contact or play through slight contact which in turn produces a game with less fouls being called and typically a better flowing game to officiate and for the spectators to watch. However, when we have a game with less talent that disintegrates due to sloppy play we don’t and should not accept below average officiating. Most of the time poor play and poor called games are not a result of how the game was officiated in on‐the‐ballsituations but in how much contact was allowed in the off‐ballsituations. Every official can call the drive to the basket, the hit on the arm by the defender, the counting the basket, reporting the foul and administering the free‐throw for a 3 point play conversion. The best officials are the ones who call the fouls created off‐ball both by the defense or offense. These illegal acts should be addressed from the opening tip and consistently called until the end of the game. If we allow players to displace their opponent or we allow players to hinder the freedom of movement of their opponent, either offensively or defensively we have created a game environment that will disintegrate rapidly. A few officiating points to remember:

  • Focus on your area of responsibility, if a defensive post player puts a knee or forearm in the back‐side of his offensive opponent and dislodges this player from a spot on the floor that he had legally maintained that is a foul, call it.
  • If an offensive post player backs down, fends off, or displaces his defensive opponent off of his legal guarding position in an attempt to create more space to receive a pass and score an easy basket that is a foul, call it.
  • If an offensive playerseeks out a defensive player and sets an illegalscreen on this defender to create a driving lane for his teammate with the ball or a wide open shot for a different teammate, this illegal screen needs to be called a foul.
  • If an offensive player is cutting through the lane and a defender puts his forearm into the chest of this player in an attempt to slow or dislodge the cutter from his intended path, this is a foul and should be called.
  • If off‐ball illegal acts are identified and properly called as fouls from the beginning of the game to the end the players and coaches will adjust. Calling off‐ball fouls will not make players more talented but it will make for a better officiated game. It will give all players and equal opportunity on both sides of the ball to play the game as it was intended.