It seems like the month of March has been nicknamed "March Madness" because of the popularity of the NCAA conference basketball tournaments culminating in the Final Four extravaganzas for Division I Men's and Women's Basketball Championships. March is also an exciting time for NCAA Division I men's and women's basketball referees. This is the month that they are chosen to officiate conference tournaments. But it is also the time when they are assigned to officiate the NCAA tournament games. And to college officials, the Holy Grail of officiating is being chosen to referee "The Dance."

As a former college referee, I enjoy watching the officials who were chosen for the tournament, and also how each official is assigned to a team. For this blog, I thought my readers would be interested in knowing what criteria is used to evaluate these officials each game. The goal of each official is to advance to the next round of competition. Each game has an evaluator taking notes on team and individual performance of the referees. So the evaluation of each game plays a huge role in how the supervisor of officials determines who goes on and who goes home.

The evaluation form for NCAA Division I Basketball referees is two pages long. There is a rating code using a 1-4 scale: 1 = Unsatisfactory, 2 = Satisfactory, 3 = Exceptional, and 4 = Not Applicable. There are five sections to the form: Game Information; Fitness, Mobility and Communication; Judgment, Rule Enforcement, and Play Calling; Accuracy, Game Management, and Mechanics; and Overall Evaluation. There is also a Comment Section for each of the sections at the end of the form: Fitness, Mobility, and Communication; Judgment, Rule Enforcement, and Play Calling; Accuracy, Game Management, and Mechanics; Time of Plays for Review; Summary.

Game Information. This area lists the teams who are competing and the date of the game. There is one descriptive statement: "Difficulty of game to officiate". The evaluator has three choices to describe the level of difficulty: Easy, Average, and Difficult.

Fitness, Mobility, and Communication. The officials are rated in four categories with the rating code using 1-3 (Unsatisfactory to Exceptional). The categories and descriptions are:

1. Fitness - has necessary physical fitness to run the court for the entire game, does not appear to have any injury, eg. limping.
2. Mobility - does not lag behind players, gets in proper position to officiate plays in primary area.
3. Communication skills - Communicates as needed; treats coaches, players, and table personnel with respect.
4. Crew Dynamics - supports and assists colleagues to enhance crew's overall performance.

Judgment, Rule Enforcement, and Play Calling.
This area is the most comprehensive, with 19 descriptors being rated on a 1-4 code. The descriptions are

1. Freedom of movement
2. Traveling
3. Tries for goal/shooting fouls
4. Charge/block - particularly at the basket
5. Illegal screening
6. Arm bar is a foul/hand check
7. Enforce the rules as written
8. Secondary defender/Restricted area
9. Bench decorum
10. Palming
11. Rough play in post
12. Swinging of elbows
13. Flagrant 1, Flagrant 2 fouls
14. Three seconds
15. Player sportsmanship
16. Call the first foul
17. Enforce second horn at time out
18. Rebounding displacement
19. Correctly administered coach calling time out

Accuracy, Game Management, and Mechanics. This area includes six descriptors using a rating code of 1-3. The descriptions are:

1. Call accuracy throughout the game
2. End of game officiating
3. Clock management
4. Free throw management
5. Dead ball officiating
6. Use of approved mechanics/signals

Overall Evaluation. This area has two descriptors using a rating code of 1-3. The descriptions are:

1. Projects confidence without arrogance
2. Reaction under pressure

If an evaluator rates an official as Unsatisfactory in any category during a game, the evaluator must note the time of the play or plays involved, and list them in the "Time of Plays for Review" section of the evaluation form.

A common practice at the end of a game has the evaluator meeting with the crew in the official's dressing room to generally discuss how he/she perceived the game. These evaluators are usually retired college referees, or game observers who have years of experience as an evaluator. You don't get any rookie evaluators working NCAA tournament games.

Evaluators will meet privately with each referee to give the official the content of the individual game performance. No official is told at this time if he/she is advancing to the next round. That information usually comes via phone call or email from the supervisor of officials to the official on the Sunday night or Monday of the following game week. If the official is moving to the next round, his/her assignment, location, etc. will be given at that time.

As you can tell, only the Best of the Best get chosen to work the NCAA tournament games, and then the officials who rate the best during their assigned games move on to the next round. You can say that you see the same officials working the NCAA tournament year after year, so there must be a "good 'ol boys" network. If you mean, does "politics" play into the selection of NCAA tournament officials? You bet it does on some level. Heck, politics play a big role in who works the state high school sports championships around the country. I know, because I had the good fortune and misfortune of being on the wrong side of the political fence during my officiating career.

Enjoy the conference basketball tournaments of your favorite college teams this month. And for fun, evaluate each officiating crew using the evaluation form mentioned here. Then choose which of those officials will move on to the next round. Then watch the next round of games and see whether you were correct in your choices. And if the decisions were difficult for you, just remember that it's a tough job for evaluators and supervisors of officials to choose who advance.

Author's Bio: 

Steve Brennan, a former educator and college basketball coach, has Masters degrees in Educational Administration and Sport Psychology, and a Doctorate in Performance and Health Psychology. He is the author of several books, including Six Psychological Factors for Success and The Recruiters Bible (3rd Edition). He is President of Peak Performance Consultants, and the President and CEO of the Center for Performance Enhancement Research and Education (CPERE). Steve is the developer of the Success Factors Scales, both Corporate and Athletics Editions. and