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Idaho Preparing For Three-Man Officiating Crews At State
Basketball coaches and officials from across Idaho discuss the addition of the third official.
Published: 1/15/2019 9:44:48 AM


Last January, the Idaho High School Activities Association voted 11-2 to implement the use of three-man officiating crews at the state basketball tournaments, effective this year. Prior to that decision, Idaho remained one of the few states in the union that used two-man mechanics in state tournament settings. 

“It has been a discussion for several years. Really, it’s probably time,” said IHSAA Executive Director Ty Jones to the Idaho Statesman a year ago. “And the biggest push and the biggest reason that it’s time is because the game has gotten faster and there is a definite safety factor in it.”

Adding a third official to the floor adds another set of eyes to a game which has emphasized freedom of movement and flow in recent years. The addition also adds extra costs to individual schools to pay for the third official.

Greg Lee, formerly of the Spokesman-Review and now of the Idaho Press, noted that District I schools who have a schedule of 10 home games each for both boys and girls would need to pay out close to $1,200 per season for the third official.

But the cost is worth it according to the IHSAA, hence the implementation for this year’s state tournament.

Even before the announcement was made, officiating associations in some districts were already preparing in anticipation of that change.

Teams in the Inland Empire League of District I have used three-man crews since 2006 prior to the IHSAA making the change for the state tournaments. Over the past couple of seasons, officials in District VI have also been practicing using three-man mechanics on select non-conference games. 

“For the past three years I’ve tried really hard to get schools to allow us to use three-man mechanics on their games so that we would have actual game exposure for every single varsity ref in our association and I think that has helped us,” said District VI Basketball Officials Commissioner and Assigner James Bolen. 

The move to three-man mechanics not only adds another set of stripes to the court, but it also changes the coverage areas in which the officials are assigned to on the floor.

“Especially on some of these higher-level and intense varsity conference games, you have an extra set of eyes out there. Just having another official out there for players to feel their presence and for them to see things, it helps the other officials in being able to focus in on their area,” said Bolen.

One more official on the court equals a smaller coverage area for each official. A smaller area makes it easier for officials to move and get into position, see more off-ball contact and off-ball plays that happen, and to help clean up the game. The move to three-man mechanics should help improve freedom of movement and flow of the game in the long run as teams adjust to having a third official on the court. 

“At the beginning of the season, we were getting around 20-22 fouls. Now we are down to eight to ten,” said South Fremont girls coach Ryan Erikson. “It’s just clean and the girls are figuring out how to play without fouling and it’s because of that third official. I feel like that third official, as long as they know their spot and are looking at that wing area, [has made it] so much better.”

Ririe boys coach Eric Torgerson, who says he was originally against using three-man crews, agreed with Erikson’s sentiment.

“I’ve changed my mind. I really like it now,” he said. “I think it cleans up the game a little. I must admit I’m much less frustrated than I was in the past with referees. The infractions that players could get away with before have diminished a little. It keeps my team more disciplined defensively as well as our opponents.”

Another coach in favor of the change said that from their vantage point, making it easier on the officials is a plus all-around.

“I think it’s been better for the officials to be able to see more things that are happening, especially away from the ball,” they said.

Some fans may feel that another official on the court only adds more fouls to the scoreboard, but District 1 Basketball Officials Commissioner John Posnick told the Statesman otherwise.

“We’re not calling more fouls. We’re more accurate,” he said. “I think that’s what coaches, fans, and players want.”

Bolen says that he has heard from many coaches who have liked the change thus far. He also says that there are some who are still against it.

“The majority of the coaches I’ve spoken with have responded positively to three-man mechanics and are very pleased with it. There are a few coaches that absolutely hate it, as you might expect,” he said. 

As with any change, there is an adjustment period or learning curve. That not only impacts officials, but also the coaches in the games they officiate. Most coaches noted that, with time, the use of three-man mechanics will continue to improve, even if coaches disagreed on their initial reviews of the system.

“I feel like it has forced the district to bring certain referees to a varsity level who are not ready to be reffing a varsity game,” said one coach, who added that they wished the money used to pay the third official would instead go towards the purchase and use of a shot clock. 

Another coach remarked that inconsistency of calls and officials being unsure of their area have stuck with them so far.

“Some of the younger officials are intimidated by more experienced officials and will not make calls out of fear that they are stepping on the toes of or offending the more experienced officials,” the coach explained.

One other coach added, “Sometimes I believe calls aren’t made because the area they are looking at is not their responsibility. Even though they see the infraction they won’t call it in respect of the official in that area. I understand there have been times that a call is not made to allow the official in that area to do so, but if they do see the call I would appreciate them helping out and making the call.”

Bolen acknowledged that there is a transition from two-man to three-man mechanics, but that he feels that his group of officials is going through that transition well.

“I feel like my guys are picking up on it a lot better than I expected,” he said, adding that his district is fortunate enough to have several officials who have experience using three-man mechanics, including having worked in the college ranks, from the junior college level up to Division I. “I told the coaches at the beginning of the year when I met with them that this is not going to be a one or two year process. This is going to be a three year process and hopefully by that third year we start saying ‘Hey, you know what? They’re starting to get this.’ They all know well that we are going to have some guys with less experience who haven’t worked varsity games in there, but I feel like our guys have stepped up in the roles and have done a good job.”

Century boys coach Ryan Frost said that, from what he’s seen, the games are being called more consistent.

“I also believe [using three-man mechanics] is a good way to help teach younger officials,” he said, noting that the change will help create a more consistent game overall.

Using three-man crews also puts less of a strain on the officials’ bodies and allows them to work games for a longer period of their life, which will be beneficial. The current problem, however, is that every area of the state is in need of people to step up and officiate. It’s a problem that Frost says could potentially have implications come district tournament time.

“I am concerned when the girls’ state tournament starts and the boys teams start their district tournaments, a large number of officials will be at state and the boys could get less experienced officials in very important games,” he said.

While that particular issue will have to be addressed and sorted out by each individual district, most of the coaches who were asked to comment said that the change should be beneficial to the game in the long run.

“I’ve always felt that the more scrappy and physical team had an unfair advantage with a two-ref system because of the blind spots of that system,” said Torgerson. “Sometimes that was us and sometimes it was the other team. The three-referee system makes it a lot more level playing field because there are now very few blind spots.”

One coach said despite struggles that they have seen thus far, they believe the change is for the best long term.

“With more experience they will get better and more used to each other and to what they should be looking for in their area. I believe it will clean up the sport and help with the dirty play of some teams,” they said, adding that more people are needed to step up and be officials.

Another coach noted that if the change allows more veteran officials to stay in the game longer that it would be a good thing overall.

Erikson says that the investment in the third official has been worth it to him.

“It’s just cleaner and I can talk to the officials to ask what they are seeing because I know now which one is covering a particular area,” he said.

One other coach commented that once this change gets into full swing that it will be of great benefit to all involved.

“It’s always better to have another set of eyes and ears to help clarify rules and to help in making calls that may not have been seen by the official in the particular area,” they said.

Bolen said that he, along with many other officials, have hoped for this change for a long time and that they know it will be beneficial to the game of basketball in Idaho.

“We’ve already seen the benefits,” he remarked. “These games can be tough to officiate especially once you get down to conference play and these teams are going at it so I think we’ve already seen benefits of it. As we get better at it, we will continue to see the benefits of the change.”

One coach said that this change has increased their appreciation of the officials now more than ever.

“They, like coaches, are a dying breed. There are not many people wanting to get involved in reffing or coaching because of the negative treatment on and off the floor,” said the coach. “They, like all people, come from a long day of work and time away from their families. They do it to help our student-athletes become better people and players. Calls don’t always go our way, but they are doing the best they can according to the angles they have to make the call. Without the officials the game would not exist.”

*Some coaches in the article agreed to comment on condition of anonymity.


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