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NBA referees prepare for 15-game slate ahead of Election Day 2022

How NBA officials navigate a jam-packed schedule with all 30 teams in action on the same night.

NBA officials review a call during a live game while communicating with other referees in the Replay Center in Secaucus, NJ.

A hectic day of a full slate of games invariably means a hectic day for those who work in and around the NBA. This means an all-hands-on-deck night Nov. 7 for the game officials, too.

>> Click here for Monday’s schedule 

Fifteen games on the same night, the maximum possible, means the referees will be maxed as well. With three-official crews in each arena, plus another 12-15 more working in the Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J., as many as 60 officials will be on the clock that night.

That won’t be a problem for two good reasons, according to Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s senior VP head of referee development and training. First, there are 74 officials on staff with another eight part-timers who split time in the G League or WNBA. And second, the league does stick with three-ref crews for regular season games.

Those alternate referees you see listed for playoff games? That’s a backup system for the postseaon only. When the NBA upped its crews from two to three officials for good in 1988, the training then – and the training now – still is based on the old two-ref system.

“So if they had to, they could still work a two-person game,” McCutchen told

There will only be a few referees off Monday night, in transit to their next assignment or killing time in a Marriott concierge lounge. But there won’t be any shortage of the folks with the whistles.

“In terms of the games in the arenas, it’s just another work day,” McCutchen said. “You have that covered with three officials – a crew chief, a referee and an umpire.”

What will be different – almost to the point of maxed out, actually – will be the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J. In fact, a 15th workstation was recently added to the monitors-laden, electronics-buzzing nerve center of the league on game nights.

VP of Referee Ops & Replay Center Principal Kane Fitzgerald has worked 779 regular-season games across 13 years and 69 playoff games.

“It’s gonna be a busy night for sure,” said Kane Fitzgerald, the former NBA ref who is working his first season off the floor as VP of Referee Operations and Replay Center Principal. “That will max out our capacity, utilizing every replay operator space that we have, with 15 people around the outer rim.

“And we’ll have a full slate of senior replay managers and officials that night. There are five senior replay managers, and five referees that will sit with every replay manager.”

It will be more bodies than that by the night’s end. On a typical busy night of 12 or 13 games, the starting times are broken up by time zones. The schedule for Monday calls for a more orchestrated tipoff: One game beginning every 15 minutes once Wizards-Hornets tips off at 7 p.m ET to Cavaliers-Clippers at 10:30 p.m. ET.

“They get some camaraderie, they get together and talk during timeouts, they get to hang out and have a little more down time together in that atmosphere.

Kane Fitzgerald, VP of Referee Ops & Replay Center Principal 

Although the earliest games will be over before the late ones begin, there likely will be a lot of overlap. That might not stretch the center’s overall resources thin but it will tinker with the usual workflow.

After all, in a recent interview, Fitzgerald said that the toughest task in the Replay Center on any given night is having multiple replay challenges come in simultaneously or nearly so.

“When they come one at a time, you can get other referees’ opinions,” Fitzgerald said. “You can throw out, ‘Hey guys, what do you see on this?’ It gives you greater confirmation that we’re all on the same page.”

On a busy (but not maxed out) night, there might be six to eight referees on-site at the Secaucus center, staggering the starts and ends of their shifts according to the slate of games. This will be more like a rolling wave, requiring more eyes.

“When you have two or three [replays] pop up at the same time, everybody’s on their own,” Fitzgerald said. “Everybody’s got to make their own decision.”

And always the clock is ticking, with the staff in the Replay Center trying to balance speed with accuracy, particularly for the fans in arenas.

Said McCutchen: “Having every team play, 15 games, we’re going to have to maximize a 1-to-1 relationship in replay to make sure every situation is being covered.”

Getting assigned to work a night or two at the Replay Center might seem like getting hauled into a classroom or an office for referees who travel the country and get the adrenaline rush of working on the floor under the bright lights. Then again, a couple of shifts without all that commercial travel, physical exertion and competitive-crazy players and coaches might be a respite.

“I think it’s a great place for the officials,” said Fitzgerald, a New Jersey native who got recruited to the job after working 779 regular-season games across 13 years and 69 playoff games.

“They get some camaraderie, they get together and talk during timeouts, they get to hang out and have a little more downtime together in that atmosphere. It’s still an assignment but they have a day to themselves to rest and recover, get some therapy done. They get to talk rules. The Replay Center is a big hub for all the different plays, so there’s a lot of shop talk.”

While the referee count will be at a maximum on Monday, the minimum number – 0 – will be needed on Tuesday, with the NBA clearing its schedule in a nod to Election Day. The obvious message to fans is: Go vote.

>> Get In The Game: VOTE

Going completely dark for Election Day 2022 is a rare move for the league but an important action step nonetheless as teams are being encouraged to share election information with fans.

Some NBA officials heading to or already at their next assignments will need to have done that already. But that doesn’t take away from the league’s focus on getting people to the polls.

“What I think it really says about the NBA, those who cover it, those who work inside of it, is what our priorities are,” McCutchen said. “I’m glad to work for a company that’s valuing this in a way that, even if our referees have to vote remotely, they at least know through this focus on the games the night before – and no games on Election Day – that this is at the forefront.

“They won’t have an excuse of ‘Man, I got really busy and I didn’t.’ That comes from the values that we as a company have placed on this.”

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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