5 Tips for Dealing With Bad Basketball Referees

A bad referee can decide who wins and who loses a close game.

Good officiating is the key to a fair contest in nearly any sporting event. A bad call or missed call has the potential to alter a game in favor of one team over another, while an overall bad umpire, referee or official making multiple bad calls eliminates any fair play in the game. The game of basketball is particularly reliant on its referees from a game management standpoint, because they must call fouls and enforce the rules of the game.

Basketball officials are expected to be an objective enforcer of the rule book. When an infraction is committed, the referee will stop play by blowing her whistle and penalize the team that violated the rule. Common rule violations include committing fouls, dribbling infractions and losing the ball out of bounds; more severe violations are called technical fouls, and they are often for things like poor displays of sportsmanship. The penalties for rule violations vary from a simple jump ball all the way to ejections, but most often involve a loss of possession or free throws being awarded to the other team.

So, how do you deal with a bad referee? There are several ways to do so.

1. Talk to the Referee

Referees are humans, and humans make mistakes- although the referee is likely unaware that he or she is doing so. While pointing out a bad call in a rude way won't help your cause, mentioning a problem in a more general way can alert the referee to your concerns and give him things to watch out for.

2. Politely ask the referees to watch the opposing team

If one specific referee seems to be the issue, talk to the others on the court and ask them to be on the lookout for the other team’s fouls

For example, if the referee is calling fouls unfairly against your team, ask the referee to watch the opposing team for drawing fouls. A polite complaint can garner sympathy to your plight depending on the ref and is the first step to correcting bad refereeing. Talk to the other referees on the court as well to address bad calls if a specific ref is to blame.

The important thing to remember when talking to the official is to be polite, especially if you are a head coach or parent of a young player or team. Be a role model. Youth sports officials are not always going to make the correct call- that’s why they are officiating a lower level game.

It is also important to know the right time to talk to an official. ‌Wait until there is some kind of stoppage‌ of the clock- timeouts, half time and dead balls are all good times to talk to an official. Yelling at them while they hustle down the sideline will often do more harm than good- so be smart about it.

3. Play Cautiously

A bad referee is more likely to penalize you for aggressive play in basketball since the game is not considered a contact sport. As a result, give the other team a little more space when dealing with a bad referee to try to prevent unjust foul calls and other penalties.

There is a risk associated with this because good players take advantage of any extra space they have to either advance the ball towards the net or go for a shot. However, playing more conservatively for a little while may placate an overly sensitive referee and get him to start calling things more fairly.

4. Draw Fouls

While two wrongs don't make a right, one bad call sometimes counteracts another. As a result, try drawing fouls if you have a referee that is overly eager to blow the whistle during a game. If an opposing player nudges you or a teammate during game play, play up that contact and overly dramatize it. If the referee is as incompetent as you believe, he may fall for it and make a call in your favor. Be careful to not overuse this tactic, as other referees on the court may pick up on it and start penalizing your team as a result.

5. File Complaints

While you are limited in what you can do during a game to curtail a bad referee, you do have the right to file a formal complaint after the game is over. Nearly every organized basketball league, even on an intramural level, has standards and policies that their officials are expected to live up to.

Videotape your games and then include the video of the game in question when complaining about any bad calls. Fill out any forms required by the sanctioning body and write a formal report explaining what calls were made by the referee and why those calls were faulty. On the high school and college level, talking to a school’s athletic director about your concerns is usually a good first step. Even if the referee isn't removed from duty, he may be prevented from refereeing your future games.

6. Implement a Review System

With the introduction of instant replay to the NBA, a referee must also assess replays on a court-side monitor. These can vary from judging whether a player got a shot off in time before the final buzzer or if the clock manager at the scorer's table failed to start up the clock at the right time. In such cases, a referee will review footage, then make a quick decision to count a basket or reset the clock to the correct time. Although there is no instant replay on the high school level as of 2010, refs calling an NCAA game can only review certain plays, such as if a shot should be scored a 2- or 3-pointer. NCAA refs can only review buzzer-beaters if they come at the end of a half or overtime periods.

How do you Level a Complaint Against High School Basketball Referees?

Ask the referee or a league official for which officiating organization the referee works. Write this name down and any other information that comes with it.

Go to website for the National Association of Sports Officials and fill out a contact order form so you can get a list of local high school basketball associations in your area. They will send you information about how to contact your league office.

Write out your complaint in an email or in a hard copy. Do this in a professional manner, citing the exact calls you disagreed with and any evidence you have to support your complaint.

Send the email to the officiating organization as well as any coaches or administrators at the high school, so they are aware the complaint was made. If you are sending a hard copy, note that you are sending the letter to the organization and to school administrators or coaches. Send photocopies to all parties who you want to see the complaint, so they can keep the information on file.


Organizations vary based on what district the high school is in and what state the district is in. Some are larger than others and some make it easier to file a complaint than others.


Do not say anything offensive or accusatory in your complaint. Maintain professionalism and a certain amount of decorum at all times. Dealing with a bad basketball referee requires patience.