What Are the Duties of Basketball Officials?

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Basketball officials must have a quick whistle and the ability to make split-second decisions during game play in order to be effective and call a fair game. If you're looking to break into officiating, understanding the duties of the basketball referee will help you prepare for a demanding and sometimes thankless line of work.

Pre-Game Duties

Before the ball is even tipped, basketball officials have a number of different duties to make sure everything is in order for the start of the game. Referees check the different equipment used in the game, including the ball to make sure it's properly inflated, the playing surface and baskets to make sure there are no hazards to players during the game. Officials also check the official game books to make sure the rosters are inputted correctly to help guard against scoring mistakes during the game.

Calling Fouls and Violations

The main role of basketball refs is to make sure there is fair play for all players during the game. That means calling violations such as travels, double dribbles and three-second violations, as well as determining when a foul has occurred and the appropriate penalties. Officials study the rules and take tests to make sure they know the ins and outs of every section of the rules. Many violations are cut and dried, but fouls are often result of an official's judgment of whether the contact gave an advantage or disadvantage.


To help communicate with players, coaches, the scorer's table and spectators, basketball refs use hand signals to indicate different fouls and violations. For example, to signal a foul, the ref raises his hand above the head with a fist, then makes a signal indicating the type of foul. A block – a player illegally using the body to block the path of an opponent – is signaled by bringing both hands down on either side of the waist. An offensive foul is indicated by placing the hand on the back of the head and pointing in the direction of the offended team.

Correcting Errors

Officials are also responsible for correcting any errors that occur during the game that are correctable by rule. For example, if it is determined that a team did not receive foul shots when it was entitled to them – such as for bonus free throws – the officials may stop play and award the team the free throws if the mistake is discovered before play resumes after the first dead ball after the error. In college basketball and the NBA, officials may use television monitors to help determine if a basket went in before time expired or whether a successful field goal should count for two or three points.