Officiating Difficult or Abusive Situations

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Managing Difficult or Abusive Situations in Basketball

By Peter Gerardi, International Association of Approved Basketball Officials  (

Over the years there has been emphasis on official, coach, and player behavior/relationships. Meanwhile there has been a growing concern for the inappropriate and unacceptable behavior of coaches, players, and spectators (i.e., threatening and abusive language toward officials). Spectators, coaches, and players have approached the court and locker rooms to confront officials, encroaching on places that should be secured as "off limits!" Officials can take initiative to minimize the escalation of potentially serious conflicts. Proactive measures by officials, game administrators, and other security personnel lead to fewer problems. Do not get caught up in believing that a bad situation will improve later in the game. Act as a team and do whatever is necessary by applying a fair and appropriate action to prevent or remedy a bad situation.

Pregame Initiatives

Upon arrival at the gymnasium the referee and/or the umpire, individually or as a crew, should introduce themselves to the game administrator (athletic director or school administrator). For future reference, make an effort to ascertain the overall availability and accessibility of game management personnel. Also discuss with them the supervision of spectator activities and what the plan should be to identify potentially unacceptable and threatening behavior. You should come out of this meeting with ideas for proactive efforts to correct inappropriate conduct.

Discuss with your partner potentially harmful coach, player, and spectator behavior by discussing prior incidents, team tendencies, rivalries, and personalities. Determine a course of action to be followed if necessary. What are the rules associated with dealing with coaches, players, bench personnel, or spectator behavior? When is it appropriate to enforce a rule and penalize those behaviors? Know your options in accordance with the rules. Decide upon a place to meet at the conclusion of the game (i.e., center court) and exit the gymnasium as a crew.

The official's locker room is to be used by working officials only. The locker room is not a place for visitors, friends, or fellow officials to congregate. Coaching staff personnel shall not be allowed to visit or interact with officials in the locker room. If coaches feel a need to discuss an issue with officials it must be done on the court with both coaches present.

Game Initiatives

As officials you will occasionally be required to identify problem spectators. The officiating crew has few options available in addressing this unpleasant situation. The official shall not talk to, gesture toward, or confront a spectator. The official’s action should be limited to seeking assistance from a game administrator and/or police. Allow the game administrator to deal with fans involved (warning, removal, etc.). As the game manager, it may be necessary for officials to delay the game until the unruly fan is removed.

Always work with game administrators and police to deal with or gain control of any incident. As a last resort and when necessary you may have to penalize for excessive unacceptable spectator behavior. You know what to do because you know the rules and discussed possible scenarios in your pregame.

As the end of the game approaches, officials should anticipate potential problems with coaches, players, or spectators. If game conditions warrant, officials should discuss their end-of-game procedure with game administrators and police. Agree on a plan that will maximize the safety and welfare of coaches, players, and officials. Include immediate measures such as an escort to the locker room with the administrator and/or police.

Post game Initiatives

Officials cannot anticipate every potential problem with coaches, player, or spectators. As the game ends be sure to approve game results with the official scorer by using a prearranged signal and then swiftly move to meet your partner at the agreed upon location. Immediately leave the gymnasium as a crew and proceed directly to the locker room. Unless authorized by local rule it is strongly recommended that officials never stop to discuss any aspect of the game, and this includes with the media. If you are confronted make every effort to ignore the interruption and continue directly to the locker room. Be sure that the administrator escort, preferably a police escort, includes exit from the building, entering your vehicle, and departure from the premises. If upon arrival in the locker room you feel that your safety may be further compromised, call 911 to arrange for police protection and escort. Likewise, if when you leave the campus it appears that you are being followed and you feel your safety is at risk, call 911 for instructions on how to proceed. If you do not have access to a cell phone drive to a safe populated area or to the police station.

Rarely does an incident occur so suddenly that you do not have the ability to choose silence, to take control, or to gain assistance from game administrator, security, or police. If such a sudden situation presents itself do not do or say anything to exacerbate the situation. Consider an immediate avenue for escape. If you are harassed, threatened, or physically assaulted, you have the right to use reasonable physical force to protect yourself. Additionally, as an individual victim of an alleged crime you have the right to make formal written complaint to police requesting investigation that may lead to arrest and prosecution of any perpetrators.

Special Note: As a general rule, it is strongly recommended that as an official you attempt to use the least restrictive enforcement action to remedy a situation and then proceed as necessary; 1) positive corrective communication with coach and player(s), 2) apply the rules of basketball when proper and appropriate, 3) request the active involvement of game administrator, and 4) as a last resort involve police intervention.

Procedures To Report Incidents to Commissioner

Whenever a "serious situation-serious incident" occurs at a game the referee, in cooperation with the umpire, shall be responsible to report the details of the incident via telephone and/or email to the Assigning Commissioner the same day of the game. A followup written summary report is strongly recommended. a "serious situation-serious incident" shall include but not be limited to: (1) suspended game; (2) serious injury occurred; (3) ejection of players, bench personnel, or coaches; (4) police action was necessary; (5) verbal threat or physical contact by anyone toward any official; and (6) any other serious or unusual incident. When in doubt report the incident.

Rule References

The following rule references will assist officials with managing difficult or abusive situations with coaches, players, bench personnel, and spectators. It is incumbent upon all officials to develop a working knowledge of the rules in an effort to confidently, effectively, and appropriately penalize when the situation warrants:

Rule 2, section 2: Officials Jurisdiction

Rule 2, section 8, article 1: Official’s Additional Duties: Penalize unsporting conduct by any player, coach, substitute, team attendant, or follower. (Note: The home management or game committee is responsible for spectator behavior, insofar as it can reasonably be expected to control the spectators. The officials may call fouls on either team if its supporters act in such a way as to interfere with the proper conduct of the game. Discretion must be used in calling such fouls, however, lest a team be unjustly penalized. When team supporters become unruly or interfere with the orderly progress of the game, the officials shall stop the game until the host management resolves the situation and the game can proceed in an orderly manner. In the absence of a designated school representative, the home coach shall serve as the host management.)

NFHS 2005-06 casebook situation 2.8.1 situation for additional guidance on official’s additional duties

Rule 4, section 34: Players, Bench Personnel, Substitutes, and Team Members

Rule 10, section 3: Player Technical Fouls

Rule 10, section 4: Bench Technical Fouls

Rule 10, section 5: Head Coaches' Rule